If your experiences are at all like mine, you might have some students who just will not write creatively. They’ll create essays compliantly, but ask them to use their imagination and they freeze. In this post, I’ll teach you how to host a figurative language tasting activity–a lesson that gets kids writing every time!
Why Host a Figurative Language Tasting?
I don’t know how creative writing electives work in your school, but here’s how they go in mine: kids need an elective, counselor sees a mostly empty creative writing class, the counselor signs the kid up for that class and assures them that it will be fun.
Unsurprisingly, students then show up to the first day of my creative writing class with questions.
What are we going to do in here? What IS creative writing? Wait, we’re going to have to write in here?!
Yes, my creative writing students show up not knowing that creative writing involves writing.
Really. I once had a student DROP MY CLASS because he assumed creative writing meant learning how to do graffiti.
So, when I say that getting students to actually write in creative writing can be difficult, I hope you understand.
But, no worries! There are solutions!
Showing students how fun and engaging playing with words can be is an essential part of the solution.
That’s why I do a figurative language tasting lesson early in every creative writing class I teach.
What is a figurative language tasting?
Firstly, let me say that this is an idea I 100% stole from my instructional coach. The idea behind this tasting is to engage students. And what engages them more than food?
Ok, ok, feeding them is a little bit of a cheap cop-out. I’ll admit: I do like the benefit of getting some “cool” or “fun” points early in the quarter.
In a figurative language tasting activity, students are given small snacks or treats. Then, they are required to create figurative language descriptions around each food item.
Eating is such a sensory activity. It incorporates all the senses and provides kids a wealth of inspiration for creating a description.
Before I break down how to plan this out for yourself, I want to let you know that I have a FREE worksheet and lesson plan for all of this in my TPT store.
How to Create a Figurative Language Activity
This activity isn’t difficult to do, but it is certainly not prep-free. It’s also not free-free unless your school is willing to pitch in some snack money.
Step One: Know What You Want to Teach
I mean, maybe this is obvious, but I actually struggled in my figurative language unit on choosing which techniques to cover. Turns out, there’s actually some debate about what qualifies as figurative language!
In the end, being a Neil Gaiman devotee, I ended up going with the 10 techniques on this list.
For my figurative language tasting activity, I didn’t want kids to worry about all 10 techniques, however.
Instead, I picked three that I wanted students to master and I thought would be especially fun with food as the catalyst: simile, metaphor, and hyperbole.
At the high school level, this might sound too easy. My student population, however, is way below grade level and is still working on middle school skills. This is still challenging for them without being too overwhelming.
You should pick whatever works for you and your students. If similes are too easy, choose a different technique.
Step 2: Teach or Review the Terms
I know, we just want to get to the food! But we have to teach figurative language before we can practice it.
I use a slideshow and figurative language scavenger hunt to introduce figurative language initially. My students write the terms, definitions, and examples in their notebook.
I also give them a handout so they have the information in two places (i.e. they have no excuse to ask me what alliteration is–you can look it up yourself, kid!)
After I go through the terms, we engage in a figurative language scavenger hunt. I put five different poems up around the room and challenge students to find an example of each term “in the wild”.
After we complete the activity and review our answers, the students create their own example.
However you introduce figurative language, you need to do it. Don’t assume your students remember those terms from middle school.
Step 3: Gather Your Supplies
You’ve determined which terms are worth teaching. You’ve taught them. We are moving up Bloom’s Taxonomy hierarchy, and now it’s time for students to actually practice the skill and create something.
For the figurative language tasting activity, you need something for them to taste. Now it’s time to decide on and gather those materials.
Note, pay attention to your school’s rules around food. You may be restricted to just fruits and vegetables. You might also have allergies to work around. Perhaps you can’t even have peanuts in the building.
Don’t get yourself in trouble or endanger a student for the sake of this activity.
I think about two things when I choose the food for this activity:
- What snacks are going to provide the most diverse sensory experiences?
- What’s cheap?
Your answers will be different from mine, but here’s what I picked last time I did this:
- Pretzels for saltiness and crunch
- Marshmallows for chewiness and texture
- Hershey’s kisses for chocolatey and melty goodness
- Sour Patch Kids for sourness and scratchy-texture
- Hard caramels for the milkiness and hardness
- Mints for the sharp peppermint, but also to get all these other tastes in our mouths
This provides a great variety about which to write.
Tips for choosing and buying snacks:
- You don’t need to buy expensive and cute individually packaged snacks. For pretzels, I just dump some out on a paper towel in front of the kids. I bought a huge pack of sour patch kids and spooned small quantities into little Dixie cups to portion them.
- Know how long you want this activity to last. I teach in 90-minute blocks and probably could have gotten away with 4-5 snacks, but I really didn’t want to risk “dead air time”. If you have shorter classes, you can easily do fewer treats.
- Leftovers make great rewards or bribes later. (Not that this should be a regular practice, but if trading a Hershey’s kiss for a final draft of that overdue essay works… well, hey, what can you do?)
Step Four: The Actual Activity
I have worksheets that I pass out to students (included in the FREE Teachers Pay Teachers resource). Alternatively, they could just write down their descriptions in their notebooks.
Explain the plan to the kids.
I tell them what we’re doing before I pass out the first treat, but I also specify to write down figurative language to describe the appearance BEFORE they work on the tasting portion. Otherwise, kids wolf down the food before they have thought about its appearance.
I encourage kids to try and write about all five senses as they’re working.
For me, this becomes kind of a group activity. I’ll ask students for, say, a simile for a pretzel and write down a few examples where they can be seen.
Then a kid will say they can’t think of a pretzel metaphor and we’ll brainstorm together.
I walk around during this whole process, looking over shoulders to double-check work and to capture some more great examples.
A few one-sentence student examples can serve as great mentor texts later when you’re reviewing.
By the time we’ve finished the activity, we’ve already done a lot of review and students generally have a better grasp of each term we focused on.
Clean up is usually pretty easy. Kids tend to be grateful, less hungry, and pretty willing to help out. I never have a problem getting rid of unused materials!
While this activity might be a little more expensive and require a little more prep than others, I love the tone it sets early in my creative writing class.
This activity lets students know that writing can be fun, but that finding new ways to say things can be challenging.
It strips away doubts young writers have because they’re too focused on the experience. It builds class culture as we all debate the best way to describe a pretzel’s “loopiness” and fosters collaboration as students share, proudly, the metaphor they were FINALLY able to put together.
I encourage you to try it with your students. Remember, you can grab my FREE resources for this activity to help cut down on your prep time.