Quick Tip Tuesday: Using metaphors to deepen comprehension

September 1st, 2009

This week’s tip comes from Kelly Gallagher’s book, Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. Using William Maxwell’s story, Love, Kelly demonstrates how he teaches for effective first and second draft readings, collaboration, how he leads students to meaningful reflection, as well as how he uses metaphors to deepen students’ comprehension.

Students often have trouble thinking in metaphorical terms. To help introduce this concept, I use the following exercise.

1. Explain to students what “intangible” means and then have students brainstorm a list of random intangible items. List these on the left-hand side of a t-chart.
2. Ask students if they can infer what “tangible” means. On the right-hand side of the chart, have students brainstorm a list of random tangible items.

If your students are like mine, their brainstorming might result in the
following:
Intangible Items
love
hate
betrayal
jealousy
envy
trust
friendship
commitment
anxiety
confidence

Tangible Items
skateboard
CDs
driver’s license
bracelet
pizza
backpack
locker
Eminem
movies
video games

3. Have the students complete the following sentence by selecting one intangible item and one tangible item and then exploring the relationship between these two items as follows:
(Intangible item) is like a (tangible item) because ___________________________.
Here are some of my students’ responses:
Friendship is like a driver’s license because it will expire if you do not renew it.
Nicole, 14
Jealousy is like a backpack because it can get heavy carrying it around.
Omar, 15
Trust is like a video game because there are many levels to it.
Josh, 15

4. Once students have tried this and have shared with one another, I challenge them to extend their metaphors. I change the sentence template to the following:
(Intangible item) is like a (tangible item) because __________________________ ,
_______________________ and _____________________.
Using this new template, the previous student samples are stretched:
Friendship is like a driver’s license because it will expire if you do not renew, it takes skill to obtain, and it requires that you pass a test.
Jealousy is like a backpack because it gets heavy carrying it around, it’s hard to zip up, and everyone can see you wearing it.
Trust is like a video game because there are many levels to it, it requires practice, and it’s hard to repair once it’s broken.

This exercise is a good way to introduce metaphorical thinking. Once students grasp this concept, they are ready to apply it to their reading. For example, think about the love the boys had for Miss Brown in “Love.”How would you describe it? With the story in mind, complete the following
sentence:
The boys’ love for Miss Brown is like (a) _____________ because _____________.

Again, here are some of my students’ responses:
The boys’ love for Miss Brown is like an old oak tree because it has strong roots.
Karen, 16
The boys’ love for Miss Brown is like a sprained ankle because it hurts a lot right now, but the pain will ease with the passing of time.
Steven, 15
The boys’ love for Miss Brown is like a scar, because although it will fade, it will always be there.
Miguel, 15
When I read these responses, it becomes evident to me that these students understand the story “Love” at a deeper level. They see and feel what the author intended.

Entry Filed under: Classroom practice,Quick Tip Tuesday

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Melanie Holtsman  |  September 1st, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Even after 17 years of teaching, I still find it challenging to find ways for students to work on a higher level of understanding in a way that is engaging and meaningful. I love this strategy because it connects the students to their schema by including tangible things in their life. We’ve been looking for strategies to teach our faculty during Book of the Month this year. I think we’ll definitely give this one a try!

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