Holly Sitienei Vocabulary Instruction, Figurative Language: Idioms, Similes and Metaphors Learning vocabulary is a critical part of the reading process. Vocabulary can be learned in two different ways: indirect or direct. Indirect learning or instruction takes place when students listen to those around them speak. Meaning of unfamiliar words is gained through figuring out the context in which they are used. Often young children and even adults will ask to clarify when someone uses an unfamiliar word. Children also learn vocabulary indirectly through listening to adults read aloud to them and by reading on their own. All of these help to facilitate the learning of vocabulary. Direct learning involves the process of direct instruction of new words, word parts, word learning strategies and phrases that are inherent and unique to the language such as idioms, similes and metaphors. The direct instruction of idioms, metaphors and similes are extremely important because they are found and used in all types of texts. Students who can recognize figurative language can be more successful in interpreting meaning and inferences. These are critical skills that excellent readers possess. And more than that they are fun to teach! The following pages give some resources and sample lessons on teaching these types of language. Idioms are the easiest to teach of the three in my experience. Metaphors and similes tend to be more difficult especially for the younger grades whose students tend to be more literal in their thinking. I also find that poems lend themselves very well to teaching similes and metaphors. All of these lessons can be adapted for younger and older students. Idioms What is an idiom? An Idiom is a “figure of speech” or figurative language. It is a colorful way of expressing an idea. There are idioms in all languages and they are unique to each language meaning that they can’t be translated well. Idioms have two meanings: figurative or what the words mean and literal or what the words say. Example: He has ants in his pants! Figurative meaning is he is very wiggly and can’t sit still or wait. The literal meaning is that he actually has ants inside of his pants. These expressions can be very confusing to young readers and speakers especially non-English language speakers. Idioms need to be taught through direct instruction. Sample Lesson Plan for Idioms Day One: Objective: Students will be able to tell the difference between figurative and literal meanings Whole Group: Pass out idiom strips to students. Have them work in pairs to figure out the meaning of their idioms. Bring them to the carpet and discuss possible meanings. Students will sometimes know the figurative meanings and others will try to explain using the literal meanings. Define the difference between the two meanings using an example drawing and/or words. Go through a couple to make sure they get the difference between the two. Pass out exit card with the two meanings. Students will be able to define the difference between the two meanings. Day Two: Objective: Students will be able to illustrate and define the literal and figurative meaning of a given idiom Whole group: Read There’s a Frog in My Throat by Loreen Leedy and Pat Street. You might want to just read a few sections. The idioms are divided up into types of animal idioms like dogs or cats. Review figurative and literal meanings. Pass out poster resource sheet. Students will choose an idiom to illustrate and then define. Make sure each student understands the meaning. Day Three: Objective: Students will be able to understand that idioms can also be understood through context. Example: Dad was in such a hurry to go to dinner that mom thought he must have ants in his ants! Students will be able to see that the phrase “in such a hurry” helps to give meaning to the idiom ants in his pants. Whole or small group: pass out Figurative Language : Idioms sheet. Students will try and figure out meaning by the context in which it is used. Review whole group when finished. Depending on your group you could also have students write practice sentences using idioms. Make sure they have sentences long enough to give the idiom some sort of context. There are a many books on idioms and many activities. I hope these activities can help you in some way. Figurative Language: Similes and Metaphors Similes and metaphors are types of figurative language that make comparisons. Similes use like or as but not in the same sentence. Metaphors compare using just is. Similes and metaphors are definitely harder to teach but appear in all types of literature. An easy way to teach them is to use poetry. I have attached some poems to help with both. There are many resources available. One book that is good for similes is Crazy Like a Fox: A Simile Story by Scholastic. There is also a metaphor book that is similar. Simile Examples: He is crazy like a fox. She is as happy as a clam! Metaphor Examples: He is an angel. Morning is a new sheet of paper. Suggested Activities: Writing similes using student names “Sandra is as fast as a cheetah!” Writing metaphors using colors “blue is the water in the ocean.” Reading various poems with both types and having students identify and interpret. Illustrating poems which show meaning.