Spice Up Your Poetry With Figurative Language
Students learn to recognize techniques used by poets, including simile, metaphor, and personification.
- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
In this lesson of Kechia Williams's poetry unit, students are exposed to the different elements and styles of poetry through appreciating differences in figurative language and rhythm.
- Understand the following literary terms: form, sound, imagery, figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification)
- Recognize the distinguishing features of poetry
- Copy of your favorite poem
- Copy of "Life Doesn't Frighten Me" by Maya Angelou
- Copy of poem, "Growing Pains" by Jean Little
- Copy of poem, "It Seems I Test People" by James Berry
- Excerpt from Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter"
- Nursery rhyme such as "Mean Old Mother Goose" that has repeated words or phrases
- Paper and pencil
- Graphic Organizer (PDF)
Set Up and Prepare
- Clear a section of board for various brainstorming and writing excerpts from poems.
- Have copies of each of the poems and the graphic organizer for each student.
Step 1: Explain to students that poetry is like music: It should be listened to and enjoyed.
Step 2: Read and share one of your favorite poems.
Step 3: Explain to students that most poems have their own sound, beat, or rhythm. Poets use many techniques to create special sounds; one is onomatopoeia, a word whose sounds suggest its meaning (slither, clap, etc.). Allow students to brainstorm some examples of onomatopoeia.
Step 4: Discuss rhyme with your students. When two words have the same ending sound, like moon and spoon, they are a rhyming pair. Tell students that many poems have rhyming words at the end of lines.
Step 5: Have students read a passage from "Life Doesn't Frighten Me." Make a list of the rhyming words in the lines. Ask students where are they placed in the lines? Which phrase is repeated?
Step 6: Explain to students that poems have rhythm, which is a beat created by a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Stressed syllables are read with more emphasis, and unstressed syllables are read with less emphasis.
Step 7: Read aloud the lines from Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter."
Step 8: Explain to students that in some poems, a rhythmic pattern is repeated over and over. This is called a meter. Poems that do not have a particular rhythm are said to be written in free verse.
Step 9: Read a nursery rhyme to your students, such as "Mean Old Mother Goose," that includes repeated phrases and words. Explain to them that repetition is the use of sounds, words, phrases, or whole lines more than once. A poet can use repetition to emphasize an idea or feeling. Repetition also adds a musical quality to a poem.
Step 10: Explain to students that alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of two or more words. Share an example of alliteration, such as:
"Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose."
Point out that in the first line, two words begin with an m sound; in the second line, two words begin with an I sound.
Step 11: Have students read the poem "Growing Pains" by Jean Little in groups of three or four. Ask them to identify examples of rhyming words, onomatopoeia, repetition, and alliteration.
Step 12: Students will discuss the speaker's feelings about crying in front of other people and about having to understand her mother. They will also discuss whether the speaker could discuss with her mother the feelings expressed in the first and last stanzas, and if so, how. Students will also discuss what action they might take in this situation.
Step 13: Ask each group to respond to one of the questions above; encourage other groups to add to the discussion.
Step 1: Write the following on the board: "blistering sun," "piercing rain," "cotton-candy clouds." Have a brief discussion on what they mean to the students.
Step 2: Explain that imagery includes any words or phrases that appeal to a reader's five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Poets use imagery to draw the reader into a scene, to create a picture in the reader's mind, or to remind the reader of something familiar.
Step 3: Explain that figurative language is language that presents ordinary things in new or unusual ways. There are three main types of figurative language to review:
Step 4: Most students may already understand similes, but some might struggle with metaphors and personification. Here are some guidelines to help them understand:
- Similes are comparisons of things that have something in common. In the comparison, the writer uses the words like or as. "His feet were as cold as ice" is an example of a simile.
- Metaphors, like similes, are comparisons. Remind the students that a metaphor, however, does not contain the word like or as. "The branches of the old tree were long fingers scratching at the window" is an example of a metaphor.
- The above metaphor also allows you to touch on personification. This technique gives human qualities to an animal, object, or idea. The branches are described as human fingers which creates a strong image.
Step 5: Now invite students to brainstorm a list of similes that complete the phrase: "Friendship is like a(n) ____________. "
Step 6: Then have students omit the word "like" from their phrases to change their similes into metaphors.
Step 1: Have students read "It Seems I Test People" by James Berry and complete the Graphic Organizer (PDF).
Step 2: Place students in groups of three to four and have them re-write the second stanza of "It Seems I Test People" without using figurative language.
Step 3: Discuss how the poem changes once the language is changed.
Supporting All Learners
- Provide a hard copy and project poems on a board with a transparency or projector screen. Allow students time to read each poem multiple times on their own silently and out loud. Read each one with the class out loud.
- Have students collaborate in groups of three or four to support each other.
- Have students write similes and metaphors that summarize one of the poems covered in the unit.
- Ask students to find an appropriate song about growing up. Students can read and play the song for class and explain what the song means to them.
- Have students practice writing couplets.
- Assign students to compare and contrast two of the poems from this lesson.
Have students discuss the themes of the poems with their parents, asking them to respond to the question: What were your feelings about growing up and fitting in?
- Did students collaborate and contribute to discussions during group activities?
- Evaluate students' final graphic organizer.
- Evaluate students' writing when rewriting the poem in this lesson.