It’s absolutely astonishing how little high schoolers understand figurative language. Even my seniors struggled to tell me the difference between similes and metaphors (didn’t they learn that like every year in middle school?). And they didn’t have the attention span to work their way through worksheet after worksheet of figurative language practice. So I came up with some figurative language activities to review and practice their skills–without boring my high school students to death!
When I came up with these figurative language activities, I tried to add a hands-on component. Even just holding something would, I knew, help some of these definitions stick in my kids’ minds better.
So in this post, I’m going to share some of the engaging figurative language activities that worked for my Creative Writing students.
Want some more Creative Writing teaching tips? Read this post.
Figurative Language Activities #1: Figurative Language Scavenger Hunt
When I set out to teach and review figurative language with my creative writing students, I knew I was going to have to spend some time doing direct instruction. But, most of these terms shouldn’t be completely new for my kids either, so I didn’t want to spend a ton of time lecturing.
Instead, I opted for a short slideshow that covered the basics. I gave them the name of the figurative language technique, a definition, and an example.
I even gave students a copy of this figurative language handout so they could look up any that they might forget (or, you know, so they don’t ask how to spell “onomatopoeia”).
Once we were all on the same page as far as terms, it was time to begin the figurative language scavenger hunt!
Like any scavenger hunt, the goal was for students to be the first to find everything on their list.
My students always seemed to thrive under competition, so I challenged them to race one another and offered small treats as prizes for those that finished.
In this case, they had to find an example of each type of figurative language in the classroom.
I love this activity because it gets kids up and moving around the room. I think incorporating movement in a lesson is important, but often difficult in a Creative Writing class.
Setting Up the Scavenger Hunt
Before class, I hung up carefully selected poems around the classroom. I knew that there was at least one example of each term within the five poems, and I had made my own list beforehand, so I could help students out quickly with their searches.
After students found their ten examples, they could return to their seats and create original examples of their own.
Even though students were basically listening to a lecture, looking for examples, and then creating their own, the scavenger hunt added so much more dimension to the lesson. Students moved around the room, formed teams, competed, got frustrated, asked for help, and more. It was everything you want in a classroom.
You could do a scavenger hunt of your own pretty easily. Decide on your figurative language terms, create a presentation, and then gather the works for students to scavenge.
You can even do this activity with your classroom library instead of hanging up poems. Choose any poems or literature examples you want for this scavenger hunt as long as there are plenty of examples for your kiddos to find.
You could also save yourself a ton of time and get my no prep, done-for-you Figurative Language Scavenger Hunt right here! I also added a digital version to this resource. Personally, I don’t think the digital version is as fun, but it’s perfect for students who happen to be absent or when your school goes virtual unexpectedly.
Figurative Language Activities #2: Figurative Language Tasting
This is my students’ favorite of the figurative language activities: a figurative language tasting.
I go into detail about how to do one in this blog post here. But basically, you’re going to give students small treats and have them describe eating them using figurative language.
Now, I know we don’t have any extra money for our classroom. Don’t panic about the treats.
You can buy one bag of pretzels and give each student 1-3 to taste for this activity. Big bags of mints are also a good go-to for this one. Don’t forget to ask admin ahead of time for a few dollars in the budget for some classroom supplies. (You never know. They might offer to reimburse you!)
You don’t even necessarily need to give students food.
Instead, you can give them small objects to describe. How would they describe a cotton ball versus a rubber band versus a paper clip?
You’re giving students something that they can hold and experience in the moment to write about.
This involves students’ senses–whether that’s taste, smell, touch, whatever–and really getting them to think creatively about describing these sensations.
Plus, since every student is describing a similar experience (rather than trying to describe their favorite food or vacation spot from memory), they can compare their work and learn from one another.
If you want to learn more about doing your own figurative language tasting, check out this blog post.
Figurative Language Activities #3: Figurative Language Task Cards
At some point in your figurative language unit, you just might need students to sit down and practice these terms over and over. It’s hard to analyze a poem if you’re re-defining foreshadowing every ten seconds after all.
Usually, a worksheet would probably be our go-to for this. Instead, consider using figurative language task cards.
Task cards and worksheets really aren’t that different. They both give students a question to answer or task to perform. But task cards are more tactile. Students have to hold them, shuffle them, pass them to a friend.
It’s not as interactive as a scavenger hunt or tasting, but it’s still definitely more interesting than a worksheet.
Plus, task cards are flexible. (Check out my blog post on using task cards here.)
Want students to work as a group or talk as they work? Give each table or group of students ONE deck of task cards. They’ll be forced to share and will naturally talk about their responses while doing so.
Want students to get up and move? Tape the cards around your room and give students a response sheet. Now students have to get up and move around to find the questions they’re supposed to answer.
Task cards are super easy to make. You can format some pretty cards online and print them or you can even write your questions/tasks on index cards.
If you’d like to save yourself some time, you can get my figurative language task cards right here.
Figurative Language Activities #4: Figurative Language Writing with Photo Cards
At some point, students are going to have to write using figurative language. It’s the only way to reach the top of Bloom’s.
But you might not want to create a massive project like writing an original short story or an epic sonnet just to assess figurative language skills.
And, if your students are like mine, you might need to build in lots of scaffolding and baby steps to get students to write anything original to completion.
For these reasons, I came up with my own Figurative Language Writing Activity with Photo Cards.
I print off cards with pictures of different landscapes on them (a couple of deserts, forests, snow scenes, etc.). Then, students pick the landscape that looks inspirational to them.
Eventually, they’ll write a scene that describes their chosen landscape. But first, I have them brainstorm several examples of figurative language for each of the five senses.
That way, when they write, they can pull their own examples to describe the taste of the ocean air or the feel of the arid desert air.
And describing a setting doesn’t have to be long. Even a couple of paragraphs or a very long one will be enough writing for you to know if students “get it.”
Tips for Your Own Writing Activity
You can save yourself some time and get my Figurative Language Writing Activity here, but you could make your own as well.
You can print off pictures or bring in magazines. Maybe you don’t even want students to describe a landscape. Maybe it’s a scene like a day at a carnival or an auction house. You probably even have some better ideas for sensory-rich descriptions.
But if you have struggling students or students who rarely write on their own, I do recommend some scaffolding before jumping into the writing process. This could be just having students brainstorm an example of each type of figurative language that describes their scene. Or an example of figurative language for each sense.
Just don’t let them touch a completely blank page unless you know they’re ready.
It’s a good idea too to have students highlight or underline and label their examples of figurative language. They wrote them; they should be able to identify them.
This will be just a little bit more proof that they know what they’re doing, and you won’t have to worry about guessing a students’ intentions if you come across a vague or confusing description.
While much of this activity is sitting down, having those physical pictures to look at and examine adds an element of hands-on learning.
It’s hard to come up with engaging, out-of-the-box figurative language activities on the fly. But if you know that you have a unit or Creative Writing class coming up, consider how you can add a sensory element to your lessons.
Can you add some movement? Even giving students a clipboard and going outside to complete a worksheet or do some writing is a great change of pace.
Can you provide props? Giving students something to taste, touch, manipulate, or move around can be inspiring and engaging.
If you’d like to incorporate some unique figurative language activities into your class but are low on prep time (who isn’t?), check out my Figurative Language Mini-unit Bundle!