Poetry is a perfect vehicle for introducing figurative language to students. However, this type of writing may not be appreciated by all of your students. So consider an alternative…Popular song lyrics can act as a motivating medium. Songs are simply poetry set to music, providing text that is dripping with figurative language examples.
Kate Bieker, 6th grade language arts teacher at Willowcreek Middle School (Portage, IN), shared a great way to help students grasp the meaning of metaphors. (Her students, like many, can usually interpret similes, but often misunderstand metaphors.) To combat this, Kate selects songs her students are unfamiliar with (e.g., “The Rose,” by Bette Midler; “Sound of Silence,” or “I am a Rock,” by Simon and Garfunkel; “That’s Amore,” by Dean Martin; “Like a Rock,” by Bob Seger; etc.). If you want to infuse more current songs within a figurative language lesson, check out this list created by Indian Springs Middle School (Columbia City, IN) ELA teacher Laura Levon.
Both Kate and Laura’s classes have a similar activity to follow the listening of a song. Students first have to identify the figurative language types they found within the lyrics and then interpret what each means. (Laura has created a two-column handout for this activity. Kate said she has found letting kids work in pairs of groups for this is very helpful. Plan time for the small groups to come back together and have a class discussion about the inferences they made.)