Metaphors and Similes

These wonderful literary elements are everywhere! We owe it to our students to alert them to the power of these features to enhance their writing. It needs to be noted though that while they can add real power to writing if used effectively, - they can also read as 'tres ordinaire' if allowed to descend into cliché!

Some writers actually collect metaphors and similes using the examples as a way of refining and expanding their relationship with words.

New Zealand writer, Terence Hodgson in his book, Eyes Like Butterflies presents a treasury of similes and metaphors taken from modern English literature. The images collected in his book are arranged by theme and subject. It provides a source of reference and inspiration for writers to add to their word knowledge. Here are a couple of examples:

“A smile like a torch with a weak battery” - Hugo Charteris, The Indian Summer of Gabriel Murray

His hair was that special mad yellow, like an omelette” – Martin Amis, Money.

The following exercises come from Brigid Lowry’s book, Juicy Writing and are well worth pursuing with your students:

Take notice of metaphors and similes when you read. Keep a list in your writer’s notebook.

Take similes and turn them into metaphors.
Her hair was like a waterfall. -Her waterfall hair streamed down her back.
The day was smooth like silk. -A silk smooth day unfolded.

Make a list of twenty strong nouns such as moon, highway, sneaker, star. Then make a list of adjectives: tired, joyful lost magical. When you have your two lists combine a word from each list to create similes and metaphors
A fat basketball moon shone down from above.
His life was blue chaos
His tongue was a wet highway.

It is also important to keep these literary elements in check not let them run amok through our writing. If students become too reliant on similes their writing suffers Teaching students a range of craft strategies in writing descriptively by comparing items provides choice and variety.

Elizabeth Hale in her book ‘Crafting Writers K-6 ‘ provides an example of comparing, using a strategy she calls ‘one upping’ a simile. Her aim is to add variety to the writing produced.

Oliva’s hands were like sticky glue becomes
Olivia’s hands were stickier than glue.
Or –
Olivia’s hands were so sticky that her hand almost stuck to the doorknob.

Another way to add variety to description and comparison is to teach personification to animate an object and compare its action to something we associate with living things. .
The shadows crept closer and closer.
The wind slapped me in the face.
The breeze caressed the daffodils

Actively teaching young writers about these literary elements adds to the range of writing strategies they can call on to produce writing that sparkles with voice and energy.


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