Get Metaphor and Simile Savvy Through Writing

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Updated on Aug 25, 2014

It started with “See Spot run.” Then it quickly progressed to “See Spot, the brown dog, run after the stick.” But how about a sentence like this one? “See Spot, the brown dog, run like the wind after the stick.” The previous sentence uses a literary device called simile, and if your middle schooler hasn't run into it yet, she's about to.

But how do literary devices work? And how do you help your middle schooler go from literal meaning to abstract expression in writing? Here's a review of some common literary devices, and a fun creative writing activity to make things like metaphor a piece of cake!

What You Need:

  • Familiarize your middle-schooler with these common terms:
    • Metaphor: comparing two dissimilar things as though one is actually the other, as in “Your room is a pigsty.” Is there really dirt and slop in your child’s room? Of course not, but by linking the two, you send a clear message: your room is a mess, and it's time to clean it up!
    • Simile: comparing two dissimilar things using “like” or “as.” For instance, “She’s as mad as a hornet,” or “Her love is like a red red rose.”
    • Personification: giving human qualities to a non-human entity. In the poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” for example, Longfellow writes, “…he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,/The watchful night-wind, as it went/Creeping along from tent to tent,/And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"

What You Do:

Your child has been using metaphor, simile, and personification for a while now, she just doesn't know it. To help her start to use and understand these key literary devices, here are three fun writing challenges that should have your child making metaphors, using similes, and personifying in no time!

  1. Take metaphors to school. For a fun and funny exercise that will have your child in stitches, have her compose a poem using only metaphors to describe a day at school. First, help her describe what her teacher, classmates, and classroom are like. For example, is the teacher nice and but a little sour? The schoolwork bland and boring? “Ms. Crabapple is a yellow lemon/who turns punctuation into porridge.” Before long, your child will master the whimsical side of metaphors!
  2. Make a simile sandwich. For an entertaining way to practice similes, have your child plan a picnic, using similes. What to pack? How about apples green as a grasshopper, rhubarb pie with whipped cream like clouds, or a sub sandwich big as a baseball bat? This exercise will let your child flex her creativity, while giving her practice in simile skills!
  3. Personification Nation. Many children's books and movies show a world where everything—the trees, the rivers, the animals, and the stars—has a voice. Help your child write the world alive by personifying everything around her. If that table were a person, what would he or she be like? What about likes and dislikes? How would the table get along with the other furniture in the the room? You can take this exercise outside, around town, or use objects found around the house for a prose piece featuring dialog, humor, or drama.
Kate Smith has been a teacher since 1997. She has taught in New York and California, with experience in all subjects and grades from 1 to 12, but the heart of her expertise lies in middle school, primarily English and Journalism. She has a B.A. in English and a Master of Science in Teaching from Fordham University.