Discover the Hidden Benefits of Teaching Figurative Language

Teaching Figurative Language

The Benefits of Teaching Figurative Language

When we think about teaching reading and writing to children, we might first consider phonics, parts of speech, spelling, and grammar.

But we can’t forget to add some color and spice by teaching figurative language, too!

What is figurative language?

Figurative language is phrasing that goes beyond the literal meaning of words to convey a message or point. It’s creative use of language that engages readers, provokes thinking and emotions, and brings drama and intrigue to the written and spoken word.

It’s a way of dressing up plain, everyday English and making it unique and fun. It allows speakers and writers to put their own spin on commonly used language.

Some of the most popular types of figurative language include:

  • Simile- A comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as” (e.g., Life is like a box of chocolates)
  • Metaphor- A comparison of two unlike things that says one thing is the same as something else and does not use the word “like” or “as” (e.g., Love is a battlefield)
  • Hyperbole- An extreme exaggeration (e.g., I have a million things to do today)
  • Personification- Attributing human characteristics to something nonhuman (e.g., Lightning danced across the sky)
  • Symbolism- Using an object or word to represent an abstract idea (e.g., A dove to symbolize peace)
  • Imagery- Vivid, descriptive language (e.g., It was sunny June, with the air full of flower scents)

Other types of figurative language are alliteration, allusion, idiom, onomatopoeia, oxymoron, irony, and more. The possibilities for spicing up the English language are endless.  Become a member and grab these free posters in my free resource library here.

FREE Figurative Language Posters

Here are just a few benefits of teaching figurative language:

We don’t want children to be “left in the dark”

Adults regularly use figurative language in conversation with children. Teaching children about idioms, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and more keeps them from being “left in the dark.”

We want children to communicate effectively and intelligently. Figurative language is also found in television shows, movies, and music. Everywhere children go, they’ll hear these literary devices. The ability to grasp their meaning is important.

Understanding figurative language increases reading comprehension

Similarly, understanding figurative language enhances reading comprehension. Figurative language is found in all types of writing, especially poetry. It creates tone, evokes emotion, and adds a layer of complexity to written works.

Children who understand figurative language can better interpret texts and analyze them on a deeper level. They can understand the author’s choices and the overall purpose of a story or poem. This is useful in daily life, in class, and on important standardized assessments.

As a bonus, understanding figurative language makes reading more fun, too!

Figurative language makes communication poetic and beautiful

Figurative language makes communication and language beautiful, colorful, and vivid. It adds a poetic style to speaking and writing that can’t be conveyed any other way.

Children who learn figurative language will exercise their creativity and imaginations. They’ll be able to express themselves in unique and interesting ways, and they’ll have the ability to paint a compelling picture with their words.

Want to give students quick daily practice? Grab these figurative language bell ringers found here.

Abstract ideas and concepts become more clear with figurative language

Figurative language also makes ideas and concepts easier to visualize. It can bring clarity to abstract ideas, concepts, and feelings.

Devices like imagery and onomatopoeia form a clear picture in the mind. Comparisons through metaphors, similes, and symbolism make complex ideas easier to understand.

And because figurative language evokes emotion, it creates more compelling narratives and arguments. Students who use figurative language will communicate clearly and persuasively.

Creativity in the writing increases

Mastering figurative language helps children become better writers. The use of figurative language gives students their own unique style, bringing spice and flair to their writing.

Often, students who know how to use figurative language also begin to enjoy writing more. They find new, exciting ways to express themselves and their ideas.

English becomes more accessible for second language learners

For second language learners, understanding and recognizing figurative language is essential to achieving fluency. This can be challenging, partly because figurative language is rooted in culture.

Students who understand the literal definition may think they understand a phrase, yet still be unable to comprehend the intended meaning. Directly teaching figurative language to second language learners furthers their comprehension of the English language.

How to Teach Figurative Language

There are many ways to teach figurative language to students. Of course, one of the most powerful ways is to teach figurative language in context. Start by teaching the definition of various types of figurative language and providing examples.

Then begin identifying examples of figurative language in the stories, poems, or even nonfiction texts you read in class. Soon, your students will be ready to write a few examples of their own.

If you want to really engage students in your figurative language lessons, ideas include:

Analyze figurative language in music

Gather a few popular (and appropriate) songs that include figurative language. Examples include Justin Bieber’s Baby, Katy Perry’s Firework, Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles, Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys, and many more.

Play the songs while projecting the lyrics for your students to read. After the song has played, stop the music and lead a discussion to identify figurative language.

Ideally, you’ll also provide students with a paper that has three columns. The first column will identify the types of figurative language students will see (with definitions), the second column will provide a space for students to write an example from the songs, and the third column will allow space for students to write an example of their own.

You can do a similar activity with clips from movies or TV shows.

Complete a scavenger hunt

Provide students with a collection of storybooks, magazines, poems, etc. that include figurative language. Have them work in teams to find examples of several types of figurative language, cite them, and explain their meanings.

Take a walk

Go for a nature walk with your students, and have them describe what they feel, see, hear, smell, or touch using figurative language.

If you’d like to take the activity a step further, ask students to choose their three favorite literary devices and work them into a poem.

Play a guessing game

Ask students to write a brief paragraph describing their favorite place. The trick is that they can’t name the place, and they must use figurative language (you can assign specific types of figurative language if you’d like).

When students are finished, they read the paragraphs to their classmates. Classmates try to guess the place being described.

Describe objects

With younger children, assemble a grab bag of interesting items. They may be colorful, tactile, or otherwise unique.

Have groups of students draw an item from the bag, then work together to describe it using figurative language. You may assign a specific type of figurative language, such as, “Come up with three similes to describe this item.”

By teaching figurative language to your students, you’ll make their interactions with language more creative, colorful, and engaging.

Use task cards

There are so many ways you can engage students using task cards!  If you’re not sure how to begin, check out this post, Top 10 Task Card Activities for the Classroom.  If you’d like a FREE set of task cards, activities, and printables related to idioms, you can find them in my free resource libraryWhile you’re in the free resource library, grab the figurative language posters you see in the image above as well as two weeks of free figurative language bell ringers. Yep, they’re FREE.  Not a member?  No worries… subscribe here and the password will be emailed to you!

If you know you want to grab the bundle of task cards or the full year of figurative language bell ringers, find more information here. It includes figures of speech activities for each of the following: hyperboles, similes/metaphors, alliteration, idioms, proverbs/adages, personification, onomatopoeia, and puns.

Figurative Language Bell Ringers

What is your favorite approach to teaching figurative language?  Let me know in the comments!


Grab your FREE figurative language activities by clicking on the image below and entering your name and email address.  You will receive an email that contains the password for the free resource library.

I am Kirsten Tulsian, an elementary educator with 18 years of experience as a teacher and counselor. My passion lies in empowering students to discover their inherent brilliance through the use of engaging, rigorous, and meaningful activities. I look forward to connecting with you!

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