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Metaphor Lessons for ESL Students With Handouts

written by: KellenKautzman • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 8/2/2012

This metaphor lesson plan for ESL students offers a free worksheet and solid advice on teaching metaphors. First you must teach them to recognize a metaphor, and then you will have them complete a writing prompt involving metaphors.

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    What Is a Metaphor?

    Teacher There are many complicated ways of explaining metaphors to students. It may seem a bit different explaining them to your English as a Second Language (ESL) students rather than to a regular class. The best way to explain them is to give examples. This metaphor lesson plan for ESL students begins by defining a metaphor and then getting right to work with practice problems and a free downloadable worksheet.

    What is a metaphor? It's a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity

    Confusing? Go over a few examples instead of resting on the definition for too long. The examples are what will help your ESL students understand the concept of the metaphor. The understanding of the definition will come later.

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    Download This Worksheet

    Begin by handing out the ESL metaphor worksheet. It will download immediately upon clicking the link. The first ten problems from the worksheet are provided here.

    ESL Metaphor worksheet

    Explain what you think the metaphor means.

    Example: Her words rang true.

    Rang means that her words sounded true.

    1. They were greeted with a warm reception.

    2. Dude, just chill out !

    3. Cool!

    4. Do you keep any dark secrets?

    5. It’s been rough.

    6. Don’t let the pressure get to you.

    7. Are you feeling blue?

    8. You’re the light of my life.

    9. It’s part of an infinite spectrum of possibilities.

    10. What an absolutely brilliant idea!

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    Practicing with Metaphors

    Once your students all have the worksheet, ask them to read through the first few problems, which you should do together. See if there are any students in your class that can understand the meaning of the metaphor in the example problem. Remember to keep using the word metaphor during the class, as it is likely to be new vocabulary for your students.

    Have a student read the first one aloud. Then, ask your students to tell you all of the words they can think of that “warm" might be like. Examples include, nice, beautiful, good, happy, and glad. All of those words can be substituted for “warm" in sentence number one. Teach your students that the word “warm," in the first sentence, is a metaphor because it literally means “a higher temperature, not cold".

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    Working Independently

    Repeat this process for the first ten problems and then have your students complete the rest of the work on their own. Metaphors can be very confusing for ESL learners, so be ready to help them think of synonyms, or guide them to a thesaurus for help. Cheer them up if they are getting frustrated. Metaphors don’t necessarily have to make sense right away. Take “Cool!" for instance; it is impossible to know what it means, unless someone told you, you heard it in context and figured it out, or you guessed right.

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    Writing Prompt / Summary

    The final work for the day can be done in your students’ notebooks. When they finish with the worksheet, have them each write ten sentences using the metaphors from the worksheet above.

    The bulk of this class period should be focused on teaching the twenty-five metaphors given in the worksheet. Toward the end of class you should notice that the definitions begin to make more sense to your ESL students. For this ESL metaphor lesson plan remember to stay patient, keep giving examples of metaphors, and explain what the metaphors mean. Keep in mind that unless you had heard the metaphors before, you might not understand them either! To help organize this lesson you can consider downloading an ESL lesson plan template.