Focus Question: How does the effective use of figurative language create a more powerful reading experience?
Write the following sentences on the board/interactive whiteboard:
- A storm was coming. (literal language)
- Bright bolts of lightning forked through the dark clouds, and thunder rumbled across the valley, shattering the silence. (figurative language)
Ask students to identify the differences they notice between the two sentences. (One tells instead of shows; the other uses more detail, specific nouns, strong verbs, and alliteration.)
If no one mentions the use of imagery, point it out, reminding students that an image is a picture in words. Say, “Imagery is one type of figurative language that writers use to make their scenes more real for readers. Good imagery always appeals powerfully to at least one of our five senses. The description may be literal or figurative––or sometimes a blend of the two.” Review the difference between denotation and connotation. (Denotation is the literal or exact meaning of a word, and connotation is the ideas or emotions we associate with a word.) Explain how words such as forked, rumbled, and shattering have connotations that contribute to the effectiveness of the imagery in the sentence above.
Use the following to point out the distinction between literal and figurative language:
- Literal language means exactly what it says and nothing more.
Example: Frank walked across the street to the library. (The meaning is literal.)
- Figurative language is a creative use of language that invites us to use our own imagination as we hear it or read it.
Examples: I died a thousand deaths while the dentist assembled tools to pull my tooth. (Clearly, I didn’t really die a thousand deaths. The words “a thousand deaths” connotes extreme fear, and “assembled tools” connotes efficiency and lack of emotion on the dentist’s part.)
This child is as light as a feather. (A child cannot be that light, but the comparison gives an idea of how surprisingly light the child seems. The connotation of feather is lightness and airiness.)
Give students the Figurative Language Review (L-7-4-1_Literary Devices Review.doc) and review commonly used types of figurative language. Then have groups of three or four read “The Pedestrian” (or other appropriate text) or put it on the board/interactive whiteboard. Say, “Working together as a group, practice identifying the figurative language used in the opening of this story. Underline examples on your paper and use the margins to identify the type of figurative language used in each example.” Students should be able to identify the following figurative language:
- silence = city/metaphor
- a misty evening in November/imagery
- buckling concrete walk/imagery
- long moonlit avenues of sidewalk/imagery
- patterns of frosty air before him like the smoke of a cigar/imagery, simile
- walking past homes with darkened windows not unequal to walking through a graveyard . . ./imagery, metaphor
Walk among the groups as they work so that you can help where necessary and identify individuals who will need additional reinforcement. Then have each group present the figurative language used in a paragraph and explain the reasons for the choices.
Ask, “Why do you think the author might have chosen to include these particular types of figurative language? What do you think he was trying to achieve?” (to create a bleak, lonely mood; to show how separated Mr. Leonard Mead feels from the rest of the city; to show how technology may eventually cause people to become isolated and asocial)
Have students collect examples of figurative language that they think are particularly effective, record them, note the source and author, and include a sentence or two identifying the type of figurative language used and explaining why it is effective. Model the format students should follow.
- “To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o’clock of a misty evening in November, . . .”
“The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury
This example uses a metaphor that compares the city at night to “that silence,” showing how vast and deep the silence is. The silence is so great that it seems like something the character can actually “enter.” The imagery shows how the scene looks and feels.
Have students add a definition for symbol (the use of an object, a person, or an action to represent more than its literal meaning) to their list of types of figurative language. Then, one by one, display on the board/interactive whiteboard a set of symbolic images. Discuss what each one means beyond its literal definition. (Not everyone will necessarily agree about what a symbol stands for.)
Read aloud “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. Have students work in groups to identify the figurative language used and to discuss why the author included it. Remind them to use evidence to support their opinion. Then call on one group to present its ideas to the class.
Encourage the other groups to ask questions or add to the first group’s presentation. Guide students to discover that the poem can be read on two different levels (a person hiking and making a choice of a physical path; a person making a choice about a metaphorical path to take in life). Point out that “the road of life” and “the journey through life” are widely recognized symbols in today’s culture. Explain that a writer may use a symbol that is readily recognized or have one that is symbolic only within that particular work.
Have students share the examples of figurative language they collected. Display one or more on the board/interactive whiteboard and ask students to identify the type of figurative language and discuss its effectiveness.
Have students read “The Eagle” (or similar appropriate text) and discuss it in groups, again labeling figurative language they recognize and deciding whether each is effective (imagery, alliteration, personification, simile). Walk among the groups as they work, helping and noting individual needs.
Ask, “What is the purpose of the figurative language in the poem?” (to present the eagle as a powerful presence)
Hand out a picture of a scene to each group. Tell students to write a paragraph describing the scene and creating a particular mood or achieving a particular purpose, using at least four types of figurative language from their list. After students have written the paragraph, have them record on a separate sheet the types of figurative language they have used, identifying both the examples and the effect they hoped to achieve. Ask students to evaluate the connotations of the words they chose and decide whether the connotations accurately reflect their intent as a writer.
Have students exchange descriptions with another group, but retain the sheet on which they have listed their figurative language. Direct each group to read the new paragraph and list the types of figurative language used, identifying both the examples and the mood or purpose achieved by them. Each group will then have feedback about their description and a clear indication of whether they used figurative language correctly and effectively.
- Students who need additional opportunities for learning can complete the following activities:
- Ask students to imagine making popcorn. Have them describe the smell, sight, sound, texture, and taste of the popcorn. Help them see the importance of connotation in the words they choose.
- Give students a brief multiple-choice quiz that will show you where the problem is; then have them concentrate on that. For example, if students are having trouble with similes, offer several to complete (The night was as ____ as ____.).
- Have students describe a food without naming it. Encourage them to include the senses of sight, touch, taste, and smell and pay attention to the connotations of words. Ask others to guess what food is being described.
- Have students write a paragraph describing morning. Have them include a simile, a metaphor, and personification. Remind students that their descriptions should appeal to each of the five senses.
- Students who are ready to move beyond the standard might analyze how the vantage point of the eagle in Tennyson’s poem influenced the imagery.