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Grades 2-3 Lessons: Fun With Figurative Language
Four fantastic figurative language activities to engage your students.
Going on a Text Hunt
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.2.4
Objective: Use a graphic organizer to recognize and record figurative language from a text
What You Need: Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, chart paper, marker, graphic organizer
What to Do: Being able to recognize figurative language supports literacy and burgeoning creative writing skills. Becky Spence, a former classroom teacher from North Carolina, supports figurative language learning by going on a hunt—a text hunt!
“A text hunt is a great way to help students understand that figurative language should not always be taken literally. It helps early readers picture things in their head by showing them instead of telling them,” says Spence, who blogs at This Reading Mama.
Spence begins by reading aloud Owl Moon. She then tells students they will be going back through the book to see if they can find places where the author uses “extraordinary,” or figurative, language.
To model, she turns to the first page and rereads it aloud. When she gets to the phrase about the trees standing like giant statues, she states, “Hmm. I know that trees aren’t actually giant statues. What is the author really telling me? I think the author is trying to say that the trees didn’t move. They were very still. That sure is an interesting way to say it, don’t you think?” She writes down The trees stood still as giant statues on chart paper in a column she titles Extraordinary Text.
Next, in a facing column that she titles Ordinary Text, she writes, “What the author is really trying to say is that the trees didn’t move. They were still. So the author could have just said, ‘The trees didn’t move.’”
Then, she hands out copies of an organizer divided into two columns titled Extraordinary Text and Ordinary Text, or has students make their own. She tasks them with writing down three to five more examples of extraordinary language and the ordinary way to say the phrases.
Guess That Idiom
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.3
Objective: Reflect on the meaning of idioms and present creatively
What You Need: Note cards or slips of paper, drawing and lined paper, crayons or colored pencils, hat or small bag
What to Do: Figurative language adds color and imagery to writing, and exploring idioms can be a fun and novel way to get students thinking about language.
Prepare for the activity by writing one idiom per student on a note card or slip of paper. These might include: put your foot in your mouth, it’s raining cats and dogs, a penny for your thoughts, hit the nail on the head, and at the drop of a hat. Need additional examples? Visit this site.
Begin by explaining that idioms are creative phrases that are used to describe a situation; they are not literal but interpretive. In other words, you can find clues to what they mean by thinking about the action in the phrase. Share an idiom and describe the meaning behind it. For example, the ball is in your court means that the opportunity is now yours to take, as if a ball was hit or tossed to you, and you had to decide what to do next.
Next, have students pick an idiom from a bag or hat. Depending on class size, you may want to pair students or have groups work together. Ask them to read their idioms to themselves, keeping them a secret.
Then, explain that they will interpret the idiom for the class by either drawing a picture, writing a poem, or acting it out. Give students some time to prepare and create their interpretations. Finally, have them share these with the class and see if their classmates can guess what their idioms are!
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA.Literacy.W.3.2.A
Objective: Explore the use of simile and metaphor in writing, and support it with illustrative/creative elements
What You Need: Construction and writing paper, colored pencils, scissors
What to Do: Amanda Whitaker, who teaches gifted K–3 creative academics at Gilchrist Elementary in Tallahassee, Florida, has her students work on self-portraits to understand similes and metaphors.
“When teaching creative writing, it’s important to include a lesson on similes and metaphors. Great authors gift us with the use of similes and metaphors to allow the reader to compare and visualize objects they are writing about,” says Whitaker, who blogs at Simply Sprout.
Whitaker begins by defining what similes and metaphors are. She explains that a simile uses the words like or as to compare two things, whereas a metaphor implies a comparison between two things and does not use the words like or as. She presents a few examples. Simile: The student’s backpack was as messy as a pigpen. Metaphor: My stomach was a swarm of bees when the teacher passed out the test.
She then distributes paper and pencils to her students and asks them to compose three similes and three metaphors that describe what they look like. (My eyes are lakes of blue. My nose is like a ski slope.) When kids are finished writing, she hands out construction paper, scissors, and colored pencils and asks them to draw a self-portrait bringing the similes and metaphors they have written into their artwork. To conclude, she mounts the self-portraits along with the written similes and metaphors.
As an extension, allow students to explore additional formats for a self-portrait, such as a painting, collage, or video. Invite students to share their self-portraits with the class and answer questions about them.
Twist Those Tongues
Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.8
Objective: Recognize and understand alliteration through tongue twisters
What You Need: Oh Say Can You Say, by Dr. Seuss, or Six Sick Sheep: 101 Tongue Twisters, by Joanna Cole et al.; pink construction paper; scissors; pencils
What to Do: Saying alliterative phrases aloud is not only a great way to introduce colorful words, but it also helps students feel comfortable using this type of language in their writing. Amanda Madden, a second-grade teacher at Bell’s Crossing Elementary in Simpsonville, South Carolina, teaches alliteration to her students through her Tongue Twister Study.
She begins by sharing a few classic twisters. “I love sharing tongue twisters with my students and having kids try to say them three times fast. We usually end up doubled over in laughter,” says Madden, who blogs at Teaching Maddeness.
Madden has used books like Oh Say Can You Say and Six Sick Sheep: 101 Tongue Twisters. (You may also do a quick Web search to find lists of tongue twisters.) After reading several twisters, she asks students: “What do you notice about the tongue twister? Is there an element that repeats? What makes it difficult to say?” She explains that alliteration is a form of figurative language in which the first letter or letter sound is repeated.
Then, she has students pair up and say some tongue twisters aloud, encouraging them to repeat the twisters quickly three to four times. For more fun, she hosts a competition to see who can say his or her tongue twister the fastest without getting the words mixed up!
Once students are familiar with tongue twisters, Madden tells them they will be writing their own. They might think of a favorite place they like to be, such as the seashore (recite “She sells sea shells at the seashore” as an example), or pick an animal and write something similar to what you read from Six Sick Sheep. (“The buck-toothed beaver busily bit the brown bark.”) Encouraging students to think about using alliterative names like Silly Sid or Loud Lou can be good ways to start twisters as well.
After students have written their drafts, Madden hands out sheets of pink construction paper and has them cut out a long tongue shape. They print their tongue twister on the shape and then read it aloud. She also suggests students visualize what they’re hearing as their classmates read.
Photo: Adam Chinitz
A collection of activities from the pages of Scholastic Teacher magazine.
A collection of activities from the pages of Scholastic Teacher magazine.
The complete collection of articles, lesson ideas, print-ready resources, and more.