Teaching Figurative Language – Similes, Metaphors, Onomatopoeia

Teaching figurative language? First, use clear definitions and examples. Second, add a little practice. Soon your students will be ready to apply what they know.

Teaching Figurative Language

Ms. Sneed Teaches Figurative Language

Early in the school year, our favorite fourth grade teacher addressed her ELA group. “Today I’ll start teaching figurative language. For the first three days, you’ll learn about one new type and do a worksheet. Then, at the end of the week, you’ll use what you know to write something sort of funny about your face.”

The students looked at each other and smiled. Ms. Sneed always had these crazy ideas. And that’s why they liked her class.


A slideshow appeared on the screen. “Today’s topic is the simile. As you can see from this slide, a simile compares two things using the words like or as. These comparisons help the reader visualize or understand the situation.”

Ms. Sneed walked to the front of the class and stretched her arms out wide. “Let’s talk about the two sides of writing.” She wiggled her right arm. “On this side, we have fiction. The author writes a story to express a situation. He or she wants others to see, hear, and feel the setting, events, and emotions.”

Now she wiggled her left arm. “On this side, we have nonfiction. Most of the time, the author writes an article to inform about a situation. This pretty much means that he or she sticks to the facts.”

The teacher kept her arms out and asked, “On which side would a simile fit better?” She again wiggled her right arm. “Fiction where the author wants to express?” Then she wiggled the left. “Or nonfiction where they want to inform?”

A small chorus of “Fiction!” could be heard.

Ms. Sneed smiled and moved on. “For this picture, we might say, ‘The tops of the towers were as pointed as upside-down ice cream cones.'”

“Hey!” called out a boy in the back. “Those towers do look like ice cream cones!”

“Exactly,” Ms. Sneed responded. “But if there were no picture, the reader would still be able to visualize their appearance.”

When the slideshow wrapped up, Ms. Sneed gave new directions. “Open your Chromebooks. I’ve shared the worksheet as a digital activity. You’ll continue exploring similes. And it’s dragon-themed!”

After a little chatter, the kids quieted down and got to work. “Easy peasy,” thought Ms. Sneed.

When teaching figurative language, explain and model similes. Then let kids write some of their own!


The next day, Ms. Sneed displayed a PowerPoint on metaphors. “A metaphor is like a simile,” she said. “However, it does not use like or as. Instead it calls a thing something different. For example, I might say I was a pig on Thanksgiving. You all understand that means that I didn’t wake up and find myself in a pig’s skin. No, I just ate a lot, like a pig.”

A few kids snickered. Soon Ms. Sneed was delving deeper into metaphors. Again, the class discussed ten examples.

Before too long, they were ready to practice. “Today,” she said, “you’ll practice metaphors with a frog. Rribbet!”

The kids just shook their heads. That Ms. Sneed.

When teaching figurative language, introduce metaphors and give plenty of examples. Then let kids analyze and write a few.


The following day, Ms. Sneed explained onomatopoeia. Everyone agreed that it was easy – but what a strange name! They zipped through the onomatopoeia slideshow and moved onto their practice. This time it was safari-themed.

Onomatopoeia - words that sound like the sound they make

Kids Write with Figurative Language

“Today,” Ms. Sneed said the following day, “we will write with similes and metaphors!” A mixed melody of hurrahs and groans filled the room. “It will be fun, I promise. Soon, you will see how figurative language improves your narrative writing.”

She displayed an example and read it aloud. “In this paragraph, the author compares her face to a lake. You do the same. First, you’ll select a theme. All of the comparisons in your paragraph must match that theme. Then you’ll complete the organizer. Finally, you’ll use similes and metaphors to write your narrative.”

Ms. Sneed pointed to the lake paragraph. “We also learned about onomatopoeia. Can you think of any we could add to this piece?”

The kids called out several ideas: “Splash!” “Squirt!” “Gurgle!” “Spray!”

“Great!” encouraged Ms. Sneed. “Be sure to use onomatopoeia in your paragraph too. Let’s get started!”

As the teacher distributed organizers, her students discussed ideas for their writing. “My face will be a gum ball machine,” one student giggled.

Just like she promised, writing was fun.

As a culmination to your figurative language unit, try this fun writing activity, Metaphorically Me. In it, kids compare parts of their face to inanimate objects.

Ms. Sneed Reflects on Her Figurative Language Unit

Later that week, our favorite fourth grade sat in the teacher’s lounge. “Teaching figurative language was a hit!” she told her co-teacher.

“First we used the slideshows and worksheets to learn about similes, metaphors, and onomatopoeia. Then we did the Metaphorically Me writing activity. The kids came up with some fantastic ideas. One boy wrote that his face was an amusement park.”

Mr. Frank nodded in appreciation. “Thanks for reminding me about this set. I’m penciling it in my plan book for next week!”

Ms. Sneed’s face lit up with her famous teacher smile. Sharing ideas with teacher friends was one of the best parts of the profession.

Onomatopoeia is not included in this bundle.

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