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The Effective Use of Figurative Language: Introduction

Lesson Plan

The Effective Use of Figurative Language: Introduction


Students will review figurative language and discuss its effect in particular selections. Students will:

  • identify the use of figurative language, including alliteration, hyperbole, imagery, metaphor, personification, simile, and symbolism, in particular selections.
  • analyze the effects of figurative language in particular selections.
  • begin a collection of individually chosen examples of the use of figurative language, each example identified by type and its effectiveness briefly analyzed.

Essential Questions

  • How do strategic readers create meaning from informational and literary text?
  • What is this text really about?
  • How does interaction with text provoke thinking and response?
  • Why learn new words?
  • What strategies and resources do readers use to figure out unknown vocabulary?
  • How do learners develop and refine their vocabulary?


  • Alliteration: The repetition of initial consonant sounds in neighboring words.
  • Connotation: The ideas or emotions associated with a word.
  • Denotation: The literal or dictionary meaning of a word.
  • Figurative Language: Language that cannot be taken literally because it was written to create a special effect or feeling.
  • Hyperbole: An exaggeration or overstatement (e.g., I was so embarrassed I could have died.).
  • Idiomatic Language: An expression peculiar to itself grammatically or that cannot be understood if taken literally (e.g., Let’s get on the ball.).
  • Imagery: A word or group of words in a literary work that appeal to one or more of the senses.
  • Metaphor: A comparison of two unlike things without using like or as.
  • Mood: The prevailing emotions of a work or of the author in his or her creation of the work. The mood of a work is not always what might be expected based on its subject matter.
  • Personification: An object or abstract idea given human qualities or human form (e.g., Flowers danced about the lawn.).
  • Simile: A comparison of two unlike things, using like or as (e.g., She eats like a bird.).
  • Symbolism: A device in literature in which an object represents an idea.


135–180 minutes/3–4 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

Prerequisite Skills haven't been entered into the lesson plan.


Teachers may substitute other texts to provide a range of reading and level of text complexity. 

  • a set of images of a variety of symbols (peace symbol, dove with olive branch, U.S. flag, cupid with arrow, Statue of Liberty, wild horses galloping)
  • student copies of the Figurative Language Review (L-7-4-1_Literary Devices Review.doc)
  • pictures of a variety of scenes, one for each group, that students will use as inspiration for writing descriptive paragraphs

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Teachers may substitute other texts to provide a range of reading and level of text complexity. 

  • a set of images of a variety of symbols (peace symbol, dove with olive branch, U.S. flag, cupid with arrow, Statue of Liberty, wild horses galloping)
  • student copies of the Figurative Language Review (L-7-4-1_Literary Devices Review.doc)
  • pictures of a variety of scenes, one for each group, that students will use as inspiration for writing descriptive paragraphs

Formative Assessment

  • View

    The goal of this lesson is to build on students’ knowledge of figurative language and to teach students to analyze the ways in which authors use figurative language to create a powerful reading experience. Use the following techniques to assess students’ progress:

    • Walk among the groups as they work on identifying figurative language used in “The Pedestrian” so that you can help where necessary and identify individuals who will need additional reinforcement.
    • Looking over the examples that students hand in offers a quick identification of students who do not understand figurative language and the format of the assignment. If misunderstanding the assignment appears to be widespread, take a few minutes to work through another example with the entire class and to answer any questions. Otherwise, work with individuals or small groups to review and reinforce the concepts and procedure. Use the extension activities to provide additional practice.
    • Watching students work in groups on “The Eagle” and on their own group description of a scene offers another opportunity to observe individual strengths and weaknesses. Opportunities to observe whether students are able to identify and use figurative language, as well as recognize its effectiveness, are available as you watch students compose and analyze their own work and analyze the work of other groups.
    • Observing students discuss symbolism in “The Road Not Taken” offers another opportunity to note whether you will need to do more with the entire class on symbolism before moving on, or whether problems are limited to a few students.

Suggested Instructional Supports

  • View
    Scaffolding, Active Engagement, Modeling, Explicit Instruction

    Review the figurative language that will be discussed and analyzed, provide active practice with it, and tell students that they will collect examples of figurative language and explain their effectiveness.


    Have students work together in groups, present their ideas, and create their own descriptions employing figurative language.


    Have students work cooperatively in groups, discussing the results of their work, and examining the work of others to understand and use figurative language successfully.


    Allow students opportunities to compare their ideas with others in their group, as well as to match the group’s ideas with those of other groups and the entire class.


    Have students share at least one of their personal examples or explanations of figurative language with classmates.


    Help students of all levels to understand the use of figurative language and apply the skills at their conceptual level through a variety of texts and through peer interaction.


    The lesson begins with personal input and review of previous knowledge, and then moves between instructing about and modeling the effective use of figurative language and the application of those lessons individually and in groups.


Instructional Procedures

  • View

    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.)

    Part 1

    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.

    Part 2

    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.

    Part 3

    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.

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Final 03/01/2013
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