Writing Mini-Lessons: Figurative Language, or Two Things at Once


“The new metaphor is a miracle, like the creation of life.”
~ Donald Hall

Mastering figurative language can be challenging, but figurative language allows a writer to add depth and richness to a piece.  Figurative language can bring an abstract concept to life and give it substance, by allowing the reader to create a concrete visual image or associate something in the real world with abstract information. Figurative language leaves an impression. It adds interest, emotion, and color to a written piece. It clarifies in imagery what words might never truly express.

To begin to understand more about figurative language, a writer must know the difference between figurative and literal language, as well as some of the types of figurative language.

Literal language is true to fact. It uses words in accordance with their actual (literal) meanings.
Example: My dog is a carnivore.

Figurative language makes comparisons between unrelated things or ideas, in order to show something about a subject.
Example: In the kitchen, when I cook, my dog is a tap dancer.

Three Kinds of Figurative Language

The odd, friendless boy raised by four aunts.
~ Philip Dacey

Click here for more examples of personification.

Some things to watch out for when employing figurative language:
Beware of clichés! Clichés are often forms of figurative language. They are trite phrases or opinions that are overused and betray a lack of original thought.  “Cool your jets,” “Let sleeping dogs lie,” and “pretty as a picture” are examples of clichés.  Ask yourself, is a reader who has heard the phrase a thousand times going to take the time to make a comparison between the issue and the cliché?

Another Simile Example: 

A Red, Red Rose
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
~ Robert Burns

Another Metaphor Example:

A piece of summer sky
With a bit of sunrise on his breast
Landed in the birdbath,
Scattering diamonds
Which glistened in the air
And glittered the rainbow of colors
In the garden below.
~ Judy Young

Another Personification Example:

April Rain Song
Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—
And I love the rain.
~ Langston Hughes

For extra practice, view this video, created by another sixth grade teacher, and see if you can identify the similes and metaphors in pop music selections: