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Levels of Understanding
Teach students how to annotate and analyze a poem before focusing on one specific element. There are multiple levels of understanding simile. Before doing so, be aware of the following steps to mastery:
- Define simile: Give the definition. Give a quiz. Check if the definition is correct. Boring.
- Identify similes: Being able to identify simile raises one above the level of primates, but it still falls short of mastery.
- Interpret similes: Explaining why the author chooses a particular simile and what effect it has on the poem's theme makes one nearly a master of simile.
- Use similes: Being able to use similes to convey more clearly a specific message means mastery.
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List of Good Examples
These examples of poems using similes are by no means an exhaustive list. I chose poems that are often found in high school and middle school text books and/or can be easily located online through means of a Google search.
"A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance produced poetry that screams against racism and its effects on the individual. Hughes poses several questions regarding the results of deferred dreams. It touches, through deft use of simile, the end result of discouragement and unfairness. Depending on the prior knowledge of your students, you may want to give background on the history of racism in America.
- Lesson Idea: Before reading the poem, have students write a paragraph about a time they really wanted something and it was denied. After reading the poem, instruct students to rewrite the paragraph using similes.
- "Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns: Burns writes the classic love poem, comparing his love to a red rose and a melody in the first stanza. The final two stanzas end with hyperbolic love declarations that seem utterly ridiculous and cliche to normal human beings, but wildly romantic to hormone crazed teens. Use a similar assignment as the one above. Replace the concept of a dream deferred with that of love.
- "Simile" by N. Scott Momaday - As the title implies, the entire poem is a simile. Momaday compares Native Americans to the deer he used to hunt. Momaday's simile contains much latent meaning. Encourage students to explore potential meanings. A brief lesson on connotation may be useful.
- "The Base Stealer" by Robert Francis - Prove that poetry isn't just for nature loving, overly constipated geeks. Robert Francis' description of a base stealer captures the intensity of speed on the bases. A fun activity is to show tense sporting moments and instruct students to come up with several similes to describe it.
- "To Satch" by Samuel Allen - Since we're on the subject of baseball, try this dedication to Satchel Paige. As you've probably gathered, I'm a big fan of mimickry. Instruct students to write a similar poem to one of their favorite stars.
- Shakespeare Sonnet CXXX - For those of you yet to memorize Shakespeare's sonnets, this one begins "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun." Only Shakespeare could express his love through using insulting similes. Teenagers love making fun of people. Let them make some simile insults. You may want to compare this sonnet to Petrarch's sonnets.
- "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance produced poetry that screams against racism and its effects on the individual. Hughes poses several questions regarding the results of deferred dreams. It touches, through deft use of simile, the end result of discouragement and unfairness. Depending on the prior knowledge of your students, you may want to give background on the history of racism in America.
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For a detailed treatment of these poems, check out the elements of poetry study guide.
Poems For Teaching Similes
Make the elements of poetry meaningful and painless by selecting quality poems.