How to Use a Metaphor: Help for Kids

What is a metaphor?

A metaphor is a device in descriptive writing. It compares something directly to something else to create an image or resemblance (something which is similar). For example:

  • Her cheeks were on fire.
  • He had a heart of stone.

Metaphors are examples of figurative language, which means the language used is neither real nor literal, i.e., there is no real fire, nor is his heart made of actual stone.

What are other examples of metaphors for kids?

In addition to the two examples above, here are more examples of sentences containing metaphors.

  • The moon was a white plate in the night sky.
  • The train snaked along the narrow, winding tracks.
  • He burned with embarrassment.
  • The waves raced to the shore.
  • The tsunami gobbled up everything in its path.

What is the difference between a simile and a metaphor?

A simile describes something by comparing it to something else using ‘like’ or ‘as,’ usually in an interesting or imaginative form. Some similes are well-known expressions in everyday spoken and written English, such as ‘as bright as a button,’ ‘as blind as a bat,’ or ‘as quiet as a mouse.’

Other examples of  similes include:

  • Her hands were like ice.
  • He ran from the others like a gazelle.

Metaphors compare one thing to another but do not contain the words ‘as’ or ‘like.’ For example

  • The appeal for money caused a flood of donations.
  • A blanket of thick snow fell quickly to the ground.

Why is it important to use metaphors?

Metaphors are one way in which many writers like to bring more color and artistry into their writing. It’s, therefore, important for your child to understand how metaphors are used in writing and how to write them themselves.

Your child will be able to create specific or powerful images that will make their writing more interesting. They’ll also discover how to identify examples of metaphors from the literature they read and be able to explain why the images created are effective.

When will pupils begin to learn about metaphors?

Children will likely begin learning about metaphors in Year 5 or Year 6, but teachers may decide to introduce them as early as Year 4.

Famous examples of metaphors

Metaphors are common in poetry and literature. Below are a few examples that children may come across at some point in their education:

  • ‘The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid near and nearer the sill of the world.’ – William Golding, Lord of the Flies.
  • ‘Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
  • Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.’ – Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est.
  • ‘I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
  • An elephant, a ponderous house.’ – Sylvia Plath – Metaphors.

This a simple metaphor exercise you can do anywhere

Teachers or parents can ask pupils to identify metaphors in a poem or text. They can discuss in groups what they think the different images or phrases mean and why the author selected them.

As metaphors can have several meanings, they’re great for prompting discussion. In addition, they’ll spark pupils’ imagination and underline how pupils can be creative with their language.

Different types of metaphors for kids

Extended metaphor

Extended metaphors are when a metaphor is sustained for longer than a single word or phrase. Sometimes, extended metaphors are used throughout a whole poem.

Shakespeare employs an extended metaphor in Romeo and Juliet, comparing Juliet to the sun over a few lines:

‘But Soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief,

That thou, her maid, art far fairer than she.’

Implied metaphor 

Implied metaphors are less direct, comparing two things without mentioning them explicitly. For example, the sentence, ‘The boss barked her orders at her employees, ’ reaches the boss to a dog without saying the word dog.

Mixed metaphor

Mixed metaphors involve mixing two or more metaphors that are incompatible or inconsistent. For example, you could combine the metaphors ‘flogging a dead horse’ and ‘noisy neighbors’ to make ‘flogging a dead noisy neighbor.’

The metaphor doesn’t make sense, but the fact that two recognizable metaphors have been taken out of context and combined can give rise to humor.

Dead metaphor

These are generally the best to avoid. Dead metaphors have been overused for years to the point that they’ve lost their vigor and excitement. Using them will risk ‘sounding like a broken record’ and becoming a ‘laughing stock.’

Animal metaphors

  • Kangaroo court
  • Wolf in sheep’s clothing
  • Paper tiger
  • Pull the cat out of the bag
  • Monkey see monkey do

Nature metaphors

  • Your mind is a garden
  • He cried waterfalls
  • A storm in a teacup
  • Sea of love
  • A flood of donations

Everyday metaphors

  • Fit as a fiddle
  • Time is money
  • Heart of stone
  • You are my sunshine
  • Your brain is a computer

Tips for writing metaphors

When writing your metaphors, it’s important to remember that they should be image-driven, painting a vivid picture to illustrate your point. They should be original too. You don’t want to write a dead metaphor that bores your reader! Despite that, metaphors can be simple and don’t rely on overly complicated language.

Come up with your colorful metaphors with these five easy steps

  • Choose an object to write about and come up with other things or ideas similar to it. To use a cliche example, we could compare the ups and downs of a particular job to a rollercoaster.
  • Next, try and come up with a sentence or phrase that highlights the similarities between the two. In this case, we can say something like, ‘The year I spent in that job was a rollercoaster.’
  • Now we can embellish the metaphor. If most of the job was unpleasant, we could say, ‘The year I spent in that job was a ramshackle rollercoaster with one peak and a hundred troughs.’ But, of course, the word ‘ramshackle’ describes the rollercoaster in a state of ruin, suggesting the job was anything but enjoyable. And while you’re unlikely to ever see a rollercoaster with one peak and a hundred troughs, the exaggeration paints a picture of the difficulties that arose throughout the job.
  • So far, so good, so why not extend the metaphor further? Let’s build on the rollercoaster metaphor using more imagery from amusement parks. We could add a second sentence, like ‘The promotion ladder was a broken Ferris wheel.’ The image is more striking than simply describing how the rigid structure of the business doesn’t allow upward mobility.
  • And to put the icing on the cake, turn it into an active metaphor by placing yourself or another character in the scenario as an active participant. For the final sentence, let’s go with ‘I could hear the tycoon in the top cart, laughing over the complaints of the disillusioned thrill-seekers as he cashed all the candy floss cheques for himself.’ Again, this is more vivid than saying, ‘ the boss held his employees in disregard and kept all the money to himself.’ Let’s have a look at the metaphor in full below:

The year I spent in that job was a ramshackle rollercoaster with one peak and a hundred troughs. The promotion ladder was a broken Ferris wheel. I could hear the tycoon in the top cart, laughing over the complaints of the disillusioned thrill-seekers as he cashed all the candy floss cheques for himself.

These simple tips can have amazing effects on children’s creative writing, so get them to try and come up with a few of their own in school or at home.

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