Some of the best tips for teaching metaphors include establishing a clear definition of the concept and its types before introducing examples and illustrating how this figure of speech improves writing. It may also be helpful to have students create visual representations of metaphors through illustration or photography. Metaphors are pervasive in daily life beyond writing and rhetoric. As a result, teaching metaphors should be approached as a long-term process rather than a lesson plan for a single class day.
Establishing a clear definition and history of the term is an effective foundation for teaching metaphors. Depending on the students’ ages, it may be appropriate to have them attempt to explain the concept and its types with the teacher guiding and filling in gaps. It may be helpful to compare and contrast metaphors with similar concepts like similes and symbols. Such methods help ensure that learners are active, engaged, and responsible for course material.
Once the class has established a definition, the next tip for teaching metaphors involves working through examples. Examples can be provided by the teacher, or, if appropriate, students can provide examples as homework or search for them during class time. As with the previous tip, students should be responsible for generating explanations for the examples of metaphor presented, why each example is or is not a metaphor, and how the metaphor functions.
When presenting examples of metaphors, it is often effective to begin with simple representations and work up to more difficult ones. Poetry is a reliable source of metaphor, but using examples from popular culture like music, television, and film can make the lesson more relevant to students. Advertising also relies heavily on metaphor and can help students understand that they think metaphorically in daily life to the point that it goes unnoticed.
Some examples can serve to illustrate both written and visual metaphor. The poem by e.e. cummings’ a leaf falls on loneliness is an example of a double metaphor. The poet associates a lone leaf falling with loneliness and uses isolated letters falling down the page to visualize the feeling.
After a series of both written and visual examples have been digested by the class, the next phase of teaching metaphors can ask students to generate their own. Rather than box students into a particular form of expression, teachers can consider allowing a variety of ways to complete the assignment. Students can write poetry, a story, or play. Those who are visual learners may find it more useful to create an advertisement, a drawing, or compose and take a photograph. Depending on equipment availability, students may even be able to write, produce, and film a scene in which a metaphor is used.
A final tip for teaching metaphors is to recycle and review the material in class whenever possible. Even if the lesson’s focus is not metaphor per se, if the material being studied includes an example, having students recognize and explain it will help reinforce understanding of the concept. Such reinforcement can cultivate an understanding that goes deeper than short-term memory.