10 Spectacular Lesson Ideas and Amazing Examples for Figurative Language

Figurative language is one of the best parts of teaching writing because it adds so much to student writing. Once students start to understand figurative language, their writing has new life and is more interesting to read. Teaching figurative language to students is fun and challenging.  It’s fun because as they come to understand it their writing improves, but it’s challenging because we are trying to literally teach students figurative things.   

Successful Teaching Examples for Figurative Language.

One of the best figurative language lessons I’ve ever taught was in fourth grade.  The teacher I worked with found a free worksheet about similies on a website she just discovered called Teachers Pay Teachers.  Students completed some worksheets all about similies and then they created their own alien using similies.  The students loved this activity and were fully engaged.  

I had to reach way back in my TpT purchases, but here’s the link in case you’re interested: ​​Out of This World Similes by The Peanut Circus.

Engaged Students Created Their Own Examples For Figurative Language

The aliens they created using their similies were pretty crazy looking, but it helped them grasp a deeper understanding of similies.  It’s a challenge to teach our students figurative language but it can be fun and engaging too.  Our goal as teachers is to engage our students in learning so they can grow a deeper understanding and become better writers.  My students were definitely able to start using similies more often in their writing.

What is Figurative Language and Why are Examples Necessary to Teach It?

I often hear the terms literary devices and figurative language used interchangeably.  Technically figurative language is a literary device, but it’s more complex than that.  There are two kinds of literary devices: literary techniques and literary elements.  Figurative language is one of the literary techniques; it’s just a literary technique that has several more parts. We are stacking umbrellas here because literary devices are the big, overarching term, then there are literary techniques that get much more specific, and within literary techniques, we find figurative language.  

Figurative language is one of my favorite things to teach, especially in poetry lessons.  But we are here to talk about what figurative language is.  Figurative language is when the writer goes beyond the literal meaning of the word to creatively say what they want to say.  Figurative language often makes the reader stop and think, relate to what is written, or get a strong picture in their head.  The key to identifying figurative language is that it is beyond the literal meaning, literally.  

Because figurative language is beyond the literal meaning it’s challenging for students to understand when they are first learning it.  Students are going to need lots of examples and practice until they understand figurative language.  I think the activities that help teach figurative language can be fun, just like the simile aliens

4 Steps for Teaching Figurative Language

Tips for Teaching Figurative Language

8 Creative Figurative Language Activities for Review

Before Lessons and Examples for Figurative Language…

Before we can start teaching figurative language it’s important to understand what it is and why it’s important.  Then I will dive into some teaching ideas as well as how to help your students incorporate them into their writing.  You should have some great ideas after reading this article.

Explanation and Examples for Figurative Language Importance

Figurative language is an important part of writing, poetry, and songs.  The main purpose of figurative language is to help a writer communicate with the reader more effectively.  Readers will be able to visualize the setting, characters, and events more clearly.

Writers can use figurative language to explain abstract or complex ideas to the reader so they become clearer. When the writer compares ideas figuratively it gives the reader more detail or a clearer picture of what’s happening.  Figurative language transforms ordinary descriptions into evocative events and heightens the emotional significance and impact of a passage. 

Figurative language is also beautiful, colorful, and poetic. It creates vivid descriptions that help the reader’s imagination run wild beyond the literal narrative.  The reader can get caught up in the story because of figurative language.  The motivations of the characters can also be explained and understood better because of the emotional impact of figurative language. 

List and Examples for Figurative Language

This is not a full list of figurative language, but rather some of the more common ones that you will see in literature and teach your students.  This list is a quick guide with examples so you have an easy reference.

A list of figurative language:

Adage | Proverb – is a short saying that a majority of people believe is true and holds wisdom.  
Tis better to have loved and lost. Than to have never loved at all. – Alfred Lord Tennyson
Slow and Steady Wins the Race. – Aesop
Alliteration– is repeating the first consonant sounds in a word two or more words.  (Some people consider alliteration a figure of speech and others do not.  It does not take language beyond its literal meaning, but rather emphasizes the sounds in words.)  
Sally sold seashells by the seashore.  
Excited Ezekiel exclaimed loudly, “Yay!”
Analogy – creates a comparison by showing how two different things are alike.  The comparison also adds information or provides context. Depending on where you get your information, you may hear that analogies can be similies or metaphors.  But some sources say analogies are more complex.
That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet  – William Shakespeare
Withdrawal of U.S. troops will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded. – Henry Kissinger
Cliche – is an expression that is overused and worn out.  It’s an expression that used to be meaningful and described abstract concepts well.  
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I’m like a kid in a candy store.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Hyperbole – is an exaggeration that is unrealistic, but helps make a point and increase the reader’s understanding.
Zack was 10 feet tall and towered over his classmates.
Idioms – is a saying used by people of the same language or culture that is widely understood and goes beyond its literal meaning.  It might be confusing to people of other cultures.  
ducks in a row 
piece of cake
Irony – is when things seem like they should be one way, but they are really another way.  There are three types of irony: dramatic, situational, and verbal.
Metaphor – comparing two unlike things without using the words like or as.
Her smile was the sunset on a warm summer night.
Onomatopoeia – is a word that imitates the sound it represents or sound words.  Learn everything you need to know about onomatopoeias in this blog. Check out Easy and Brilliant Ways to Teach What is a Onomatopoeia.
Oxymoron – is two contradictory words that describe one thing.  
sweet sorrow
Personification – gives inanimate objects human qualities. 
The tree clawed at the window.
The dishes attacked me as they fell out of the cabinet I opened.
Pun – a pun is a play on words.  Puns use words that have similar or identical sounds but different meanings.  
Denial is a river in Egypt.
Simile – comparing two unlike things using like or as.
His shirt was as green as summer grass.
The car roared like a lion as the race started.
Symbolism – is when there is a tangible symbol to represent an abstract concept.  
The eye doctor sign symbolized God’s judgment in The Great Gatsby.
Understatement – is when a writer makes a situation seem less important than it really is.
It was just a small storm. After getting two feet of snow.
It’s just a scratch. After being rushed to the ER or wrecking a car.

There are other types of figurative language, but these are some of the most common you will encounter and teach.

Ideas and Examples for Figurative Language Activities

Teaching figurative language can happen in a lot of ways.  Some are more classic while others are more fun.  No matter which way you choose, teaching your students figurative language will bring their writing from drab to colorful and gripping.  Here are some great ideas for you to check out.  

Teaching Figurative Language With Teach Three, Pick One 

Figurative language can be overdone if we try to stuff it where it doesn’t belong.  Our goal is to help our students learn how to use it correctly.  Teach your students about three types of figurative language. They will probably discover that they like the idea of one more than the others.  Then have your students pick one that they will incorporate into their writing.  This gives them some choice and takes off the pressure.  Suddenly being asked to incorporate several figures of speech could be an overwhelming and daunting task, but one is manageable.  Grading Tip:  Have your students highlight and label the figure of speech they used before they turn it in.   

Teaching Figurative Language With Silly Sentences

As you teach about each type of figurative language have students come up with examples.  The twist is to give the students silly topics, like building a water park, and have them write ridiculous, over-the-top examples that will help them remember it.  Then have students share their ideas in a small group. The conversation about the figure of speech will be great for student learning. Each group can pick the two funniest and best examples to share with the class.  The class could even vote for the very best and the winner gets a prize of some sort.  

Teaching Figurative Language With Mentor Text Scavenger Hunt

Pick short stories or picture books with the figure of speech you are currently teaching your students.  Have students hunt for the figure of speech in the book.  This is a great way for students to see that professional writers use figurative language and how.  Make sure you are intentional about the story you pick.  What I love about this activity is that you can have students work individually or in small groups.  They can have a lot of conversations about what they find and why they think it’s the figure of speech you asked them to find.

Teaching Figurative Language With a Peer Review Treasure Hunt

It’s important to have students read and share work because they will learn a lot from their classmates.  Have students write a story using a figure of speech.  Maybe you just did the Teach Three, Pick One.  Then have students share their work with a classmate.  The classmate can try to pick out the figurative language that was used and determine which type(s) of figurative language their classmate used.  This allows students to practice and talk about their work. 

Teaching Figurative Language With Add-Ons

Write a short and boring paragraph that leaves plenty of room for figurative language to be added.  I would have to write the paragraph with figurative language and then delete it.  Give it to your students, with plenty of room between lines, and have them add figurative language somewhere in it.  They will be able to see firsthand how it improves the paragraph.

Anchor Chart

Anchor charts have become an important reference tool in most classrooms.  If you haven’t started using anchor charts yet, now is the time.  Lots of people think of them as tools for the younger grades, but I think that they can be an effective tool for all grades.  Why?  Because they are an organized reference tool.  The organization of anchor charts helps students to be able to find the needed information quickly,  it teaches them how to take notes,  and usually, they are bright and colorful so they grab our students’ attention.  List the type of figurative language, what it is, and examples for figurative language.

Teaching Figurative Language With a Puzzle

I have seen some figurative language puzzles.  This is a simple, hands-on activity that’s great for review.  Have your students write a type of figurative language, what it is, and a picture on one piece.  Then repeat for the other types of figurative language you are going to focus on.  If you think there is room for an example sentence to go with the picture, go for it.  Where can you get a puzzle? ← Click the link.

Teaching Figurative Language With Picture Sort

This is a fun game.  Give students a picture and sentences using four types of figurative language about the picture.  Glue the picture to the middle of a paper and divide it into four sections.  Label the sections with the type of figurative language you are focusing on.  Have students match the correct sentence with each type.

Teaching Figurative Language With Sorting Game

You can also play a sorting game.  Give the students several sentences that are figurative language.  Have them sort the sentences into the correct types of figurative language.

Teaching Figurative Language With Flipbook

Giving students a flipbook to create is another great reference tool for them.  Each page can be a different type of figurative language.  You can decide if there are activities or notes.

Teaching Figurative Language With Videos

Videos are a great way to help students learn and thanks to the internet there is easy access to educational videos.  Check out YouTube, Flocabulary, and Khan Academy for videos on figurative language.

Figurative Language in Poetry

Figurative language stands out in poetry because there are fewer words.  Stories are longer written works and sometimes figurative language gets lost in the narrative or volume of writing.  Poetry is a great way to teach figurative language.

Scavenger Hunt

This is just like the mentor text scavenger hunt, but with poetry.  Figurative language tends to pop off the page a little more in poetry than it does in a long story.  Have your students hunt for figurative language in poetry.  Remember to be intentional about the poems you choose.

Writing Poetry

Writing poetry using figurative language is fun and easy.  The nature of poetry allows you to simply focus on a topic and writing a figure of speech.  It doesn’t have to fit perfectly into a whole story so it’s a great way to help students practice.

Teaching Figurative Language With Task Cards 

Task cards have become a teacher favorite in the classroom.  Teachers love task cards because they provide lots of options.  Using tasks cards to teach figurative language allows teachers to have students engage in several different kinds of tasks to help them learn better.  That’s right each card can be different and students can work their way around the room to complete their tasks.  Is where Among Us got their game premise?

Teaching Figurative Language With Games

Games are always a great way to encourage student learning because they are hands-on manipulation of the information they are learning.   Students love engaging in games, even if it means they have to learn while doing it. There are lots of game ideas out there, so take a look.

10 Songs With Figurative Language

  • Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen – metaphor

“Caugh in a landslide

no escape from reality.”

  • What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong – alliteration 

“And I think to myself

What a Wonderful World”

  • Fireflies by Owl City – Personification  

“As they tried to teach me how to dance

A foxtrot above my head

A sockhop beneath my bed”

  • A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton – hyperbole

“Cause you know I’d walk a thousand miles

If I could just see you tonight.”

  • Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen – allusion  

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.”

  • Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys – metaphor and hyperbole

“She’s just a girl

And she’s on fire.”

  • Fireworks by Katy Perry – hyperbole, metaphor, simile, personification, and more

“Cause, baby, you’re a firework.”

  • Happy by Pharrell Williams – simile, hyperbole, and idiom

“Clap along if you know what happiness is to you”

  • Animal by Maroon 5 – simile, metaphor, and hyperbole 

“Baby I’m preying on you tonight”

“I can smell your scent for miles”

  • I’m Like a Bird by Nelly Furtado – simile

“I’m like a bird, I want to fly away.

I don’t know where my soul is.

I don’t know where my home is.”

24 Poems For Figurative Language 

  • Adage | Proverb 

“Tis better to have loved and lost. Than to have never loved at all.” -In Memoriam AHH by Alfred Lord Tennyson

  • Alliteration 

Butter by Elizabeth Alexander  

We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

  • Hyperbole 

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service

  • Metaphor 

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

I’m Nobody! Who are you? by Emily Dickinson

Oh Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson

Litany by Billy  Collins

  • Onomatopoeia 

Morte d’Arthur by Lord Tennyson

  • Oxymoron – 

“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.  

That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”  –Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

  • Personification 

April Rain Song by Langston Hughes

Fog by Carl Sandberg

The Sky is Low by Emily Dickinson

The Floor and the Ceiling by William Jay Smith

  • Simile

Harlem (Dream Deferred) by Lanston Hughes

A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

Flint by Christina Rossetti

  • Symbolism  

Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings by Juan Felipe Herrera

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

The Lightning Is a Yellow Fork by Emily Dickinson

Ah Sunflower by William Blake

Application of Lessons and Examples for Figurative Language

A writer can not force figurative language into their work.  It should be used intentionally to create a clearer picture that will help the reader better understand the writing.  As your students start to practice using figurative language they will have to put a lot of effort into it.  They will have to look for descriptive parts of their writing where they can add figurative language.  The more they practice the better their usage will get.  Give it time and help them along the way, and you will see the difference in their writing.

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Here is Your FREE Prompt for Writing Poetry

I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing.  Here is an entire lesson for FREE.  My Our School Poem guides students through using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets making this the perfect lesson for your classroom.

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