How to Teach Figurative Language to Elementary Students: Terminology and Quiz

How to Teach Figurative Language to Elementary Students: Terminology and Quiz
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Steps to Success

In early elementary classes, students just need to know the basics of figurative language. By middle school, students should be able to identify figurative language and analyze it in poems and novels. In addition, students should also be using figurative language in their descriptive writing as well as when they write poems.


Review of Figurative Language

The example lines included are excerpts or lines from classic pieces of literature and poems. The literary works used are part of the public domain.

Alliteration is the repetition of consonants in the first letter of words

Example: “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing

Assonance the repetition of vowel sounds in words

Example line: “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickenson

He kindly stopped for me;

Hyperbole is an exaggeration

Example lines: “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe

And I will make thee beds of roses

And a thousand fragrant posies;

Idiom means sayings or expressions that have figurative meaning

Example lines: The Jungle Book: “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling

It is the hardest thing in the world to frighten a mongoose, because he is eaten up from nose to tail with curiosity.

Imagery involves using one or more of the five senses (sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell) to describe characters, places or things in literature or poems

Example lines: “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming

Metaphor is the comparison of two unlike things

Example line: Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Your eyes are lode-stars

Onomatopoeia occurs with words that mimic or imitate sounds

Example lines: The Jungle Book: “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling

Darzee and his wife only cowered down in the nest without answering, for from the thick grass at the foot of the bush there came a low hiss–a horrid cold sound that made Rikki-tikki jump back two clear feet.

Personification is giving human qualities or characteristics to an animal, an object or an idea

Example line: “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt

Simile is a comparison of two unlike things using like or as

Example lines: Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

No, no, I am as ugly as a bear


And then the moon, like to a silver bow

New-bent in heaven

Figurative Language Games

Introduce Figurative Language

Mention figurative language and you might hear a groan or two from your students, especially when you mention how it fits in with the state standards and indicators. However, talk about cereal that makes noise when you add milk, and you might just grab their attention. Cereal that snaps, crackles and pops is much more exciting than asking students what onomatopoeia is. Many students roll their eyes when they hear it and most cannot spell it. Many times, games help students to learn better as well.

Figurative Lyric Game

Teaching figurative language is all in the presentation. Some students do not appreciate poetry and that is putting it lightly. However, show them a simile from their favorite pop song, and they will be all ears.

For example, you can play the lyric game with your students. Students can play for points by knowing the artist of a couple of lines of a lyric and know the type of figurative language used.

Figurative Language Game

For this game, students will be placed in two teams. Each team will need to try and to guess what type of figurative language is used in each line. There are twelve included. Then, students can make up their own to stump each other.

1. The giant’s yellow toe glowed in the dark.

  • Assonance

2. The river swirled and danced before it leapt over the falls.

  • Personification

3. His hand felt like an icicle when I held it.

  • Simile

4. Practice makes perfect when making pickles.

  • Alliteration

5. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.

  • Idiom

6. His brown eyes were hollow shadows.

  • Metaphor

7. The buzz of the bees and the oink of the pigs made me feel at home.

  • Onomatopoeia

8. The white honeysuckle swayed in the warm breeze, filling the whole hillside with a fragrant perfume.

  • Imagery

9. The water raged and jumped above the rocks on the bank after the storm.

  • Personification

10. His rage was like a volcano ready to erupt on any given day.

  • Simile

11. Make me a mushroom burger.

  • Alliteration

12. Jen called her boyfriend a thousand times a day.

  • Hyperbole