Figurative language is easy to make one of the most engaging aspects of an ELA class. By nature, it is playful. Because it can be paired with pretty much any unit, it can be woven in throughout the year to ensure students get the repetition and practice they need. Here are some ideas for teaching figurative language in middle or high school.
When to Teach It:
Any time! Figurative language is fun to teach with almost any unit. When lesson planning, consider what type of figurative language is the most relevant to the text and the skills students need to develop.
For example, build figurative language into your poetry units. Teaching poetry? Try to identify the technique the poet uses most frequently. Think, what literary device packs the most power? Then, as students practice literary analysis, make sure that figurative language is part of their response. This lesson will work with any poem of your choice.
While most of my literature units only focus on a few literary devices, teaching figurative language with Shakespeare’s plays is different. They are so rich in a wide range of poetic devices that we spend more time studying how they reflect his craft.
Try beginning a Romeo and Juliet unit by introducing figurative language. Then, before finding examples from the play, ask students to look for them in a text that is more familiar, like The Lion King. With this scaffolding, students are more prepared to notice and analyze figurative language in the play.
With Short Stories…
Throw in a literary terms with each short story students read and analyze. Reading “The Gift of the Magi”? Study irony. While reading “The Lottery,” dig deep by analyzing the symbolism of the ritual, the people’s names, and the objects involved. Additionally, “The Scarlet Ibis” provides opportunities for discussion of many similes and metaphors.
Novels are the perfect opportunity to focus on more complex figurative language. They generally contain multiple examples of a device. For instance, To Kill a Mockingbird is full of allusions and idioms. What’s more, novels provide the chance to study figurative language that develops over the course of an entire work. Consider: Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm both are perfect for studying allegory.
With Creative Writing…
Don’t forget to build figurative language into writing units. It can be a powerful way to frame an essay, but even more so, students generally love learning to use literary devices in creative writing. In particular, this lesson has been enjoyable for students because it allows them to respond to high-interest nonfiction texts through figurative language, color, and abstract thinking.
How to Hook Students:
Sadly, even literary terms can be boring if all students do is identify examples and practice with worksheets. Try adding some divergent thinking and movement when teaching figurative language, like this.
Analyze figurative language in movies…
Students love seeing the application of what they are learning in popular culture. Youtube is full of videos that will engage students. Play one like this, and have a meaningful discussion about how the literary devices add to the viewers’ experiences.
Discuss figurative language in songs…
Students will find this clip and many others like it engaging. So, watch them dance in their seats and sing out loud as they reflect on how song writers embed figurative language in popular music. Ask students: What would this song be like without the similes? How does the power of this poem rest in its figurative language?
Write figurative language to complement art…
Art is visually appealing, which makes it an excellent writing hook. Try asking students to write a short response to a piece of artwork using a specific type of figurative language. For example, maybe they think Van Gogh’s brush strokes look like tufts on a blanket or scales on a lizard (similes). Or, perhaps they think their favorite surrealist’s work is just a little crazy (understatement). Alternatively, students responses could be a narrative to accompany the artwork instead of a commentary on the artist’s style.
Act it out…
Put students in pairs or small groups. Then, assign them one type of figurative language, and ask them to write a script that uses that device at least ten times. Students can record their skits and play them for the class or perform their skits live. The repetition generally makes these skits entertaining and memorable.
Watch Flocabulary clips…
Flocabulary has some high-interest figurative language clips students love. Here is one for similes and metaphors. They also have one for hyperboles and personification, and this one is for figurative language in general. Instead of just showing students the clip and moving on, have them write down examples or explanations from the clips that they haven’t thought of before.
Games can bring energy and social learning benefits to the classroom. Figurative language lends itself well to game play, if your classroom culture calls for such. Try Figurative Language Truth or Dare for a basic level game. Want to add more terms and challenge advanced students? Play Get Schooled!
Teaching figurative language can and should be fun and memorable. Begin by hooking students, make sure to sprinkle it in frequently throughout the year, and add some divergent thinking to push students beyond simple identification.
Interested in reading more about figurative language? In this post, Language Arts Classroom writes about 10 poems and figurative language to teach with each.
USING PICTURE BOOKS AS MENTOR TEXTS
11 WAYS TO USE COLOR-CODING STRATEGIES IN THE CLASSROOM
SHORT STORY UNIT IDEAS
This scaffolded literary analysis activity works with any poem or song and helps students reflect on how figurative language impacts the text and the reader overall.
In the research article, “Can You Play with Fire and Not Hurt Yourself? A Comparative Study in Figurative Language Comprehension between Individuals with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder” Sobh Chanboun et al. studies how highly verbal autistic individuals have the ability to process figurative language in comparison to those without the disorder. These researchers were interested in knowing the extent in which visual context facilitated responses when being shown an image corresponding to either the literal meaning versus the figurative meaning of a certain expression. It has been known that individuals with High Functioning Autism (HFA) tend to range from normal to above average levels of intelligence, however, issues such as attention span can arise with pragmatic language which has been consistent across the autistic spectrum (Chanoun et al, 2). This is usually the case even in instances where structural language seems to be intact.
The purpose of this study was to investigate if individuals with autism understood idiomatic expressions as well as novel metaphors used in everyday social settings. The researchers investigated the interaction of linguistic and visual context within their expressions in HFA varying from their “normal” developing companions. Previous studies have also demonstrated in the past that the function of context serves to provide semantic support for interpreting meaning into a sentence, or in some cases an expression. The methodology used in this study consisted of two age groups who all happened to be native Spanish speakers. The first age group included children aged from 10-12 meanwhile the second group featured young adults ranging from 16-22.
The study showed no significant difference between age groups. However, this study did show that differences were demonstrated between the two groups of the young adult participants. The procedure used in this experiment required visual stimuli that displayed both literal meanings as well as idiomatic meanings to the participants. Results showed that participants with HFA did not only behave poorly but also slowly than the other group. This suggested for a different pattern of processing figurative language in general, and idiomatic competences (Chanboun et al, 10). These findings suggest that instead of an inability to dissect figurative language, there is rather a slower time frame in the ability to detect the expressions. Also, there has been some difficulty to distinguish between categories of figurative language.
I found this article interesting because of the information it presented. I had always known that people with autism had some difficulty in understanding a few concepts that people with what would be known as a “highly functioning mind” can relate to. For example, I watched a documentary on Netflix in which a group of autistic people form a sort of club and record what their day-to-day lives are like. There was an instance in which one of the characters mentioned how he couldn’t joke around with his school friends simply because he wouldn’t understand their jokes as it would take him longer to process it whereas he felt more comfortable with his autistic friends because they made their own jokes that were funny to them. Therefore, I knew some information in regards to this issue but I think this article definitely brought a lot more insight into my mind.
My understanding of this phenomenon is due to the fact that their synaptic connections don’t necessarily process at the same speed as someone who doesn’t have this disorder. These same nerves are the ones responsible for language processing and acquisition. I would definitely consider using this article in my research since it ties back to psychology. This article expanded my knowledge of linguistics because it demonstrated how something as simple as idioms can be difficult for somebody with autism to grasp not because of their lack of understanding but rather due to the fact of their processing speed not being at an adequate speed. Hence, its not that they don’t understand a concept, it just takes them a bit longer to process it.
Let’s look at the challenges that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience when trying to learn figurative language. More specifically, we will look at how Language Lizard’s Idiom Series can support these young learners!
The Challenge with Figurative Language
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can experience significant social, behavioral, and communication challenges resulting from their developmental disability. For instance, identifying figurative language like metaphors and idioms can be very demanding.
While some researchers believe this difficulty results from compromised core language skills (ie. semantics, grammar), the majority attribute a compromised Theory of Mind to be the main cause. In plain terms, children with ASD need more help recognizing the mental states, unique beliefs, and desires of other people. Since figurative language is all about what isn’t being said, you can see how tricky it is to navigate not only social interactions, but also literature.
Page from The Lion’s Share
ASD, English Learners, & Idioms
Children with ASD and English learners share the common challenge of navigating figurative language, especially with idioms. For children with ASD, they view language as a literal tool for communication. For English learners, they rarely share the same idioms in their native language. Therefore, idioms require a straightforward, but culturally relevant teaching approach. Language Lizard put together the Idioms Book Set so children can see both detailed examples of common English idioms as well as intricate visual representations.
Page from Icing on the Cake: Food Idioms
Language Lizard Idiom Books are available in English and in bilingual editions with the following languages: Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Spanish, Telugu, Vietnamese and more. They also come with free multicultural lessons and activities to support culturally responsive teaching.
What books and resources have you used to teach figurative language to children with ASD and English Learners? Tell us in the comment section or tweet us using the #IdiomsRock handle.
With a growing number of children who have autism in school, here are some steps teachers can take to help them learn, academically and socially
- Teaching Tips
- Special Education
- Social Emotional Learning
I remember pretty vividly the blank faces I would encounter when I was a kid and told people I had a family member with autism. This seemly changed overnight around the time I entered undergrad to embark on a career in special education. In the past decade or so, there’s been much more exposure and awareness of autism and its uniqueness. With the ever-growing population of children with autism, it’s so important that all educators are well-versed on their needs. Here are six tips to help your students with autism thrive in the classroom.
Avoid sensory overload. Many unexpected things can be distracting to students with autism. Fluorescent lights, smells, and noises from other students can make it difficult for students with autism to concentrate. Using cool, calm colors in the classroom can help create a more relaxing atmosphere. Avoid covering the walls with too many posters or other things to look at. Some students may even benefit from their own center, where they can spend time away from any possible distractions.
Use visuals. Even individuals with autism who can read benefit from visuals. Visuals can serve as reminders about classroom rules, where certain things go, and resources that are available to students. Using pictures and modeling will mean more to students with autism than a lengthy explanation.
Be predictable. If you’ve ever been a substitute teacher, you know about the unspoken anxiety of being with a different class (sometimes in a different school) every day. Having predictability in the classroom eases anxiety for students with autism and will help avoid distraction. Students are less worried or curious about what will happen next and can better focus on the work at hand. Give your student a schedule that they can follow. If there are any unpredictable changes, it’s a great teaching moment to model how to handle changes appropriately.
Keep language concrete. Do any of you children of the 90’s remember the show “Bobby’s World” with Howie Mandell? Bobby would always overhear adults using figurative language and daydream of all these crazy scenarios about what he thought they meant. Many individuals with autism have trouble understanding figurative language and interpret it in very concrete terms. This may serve as a great opportunity to teach figurative language and hidden meanings in certain terms.
Directly teach social skills. The hidden curriculum may be too hidden for some individuals with autism. There are certain things that may have to be explicitly taught (like analogies). Model appropriate social skills and discuss how our behavior can make others feel. Social Thinking is a great curriculum with pictures books such as You Are a Social Detective that explain social skills in an easy to understand way.
Treat students as individuals. I’m sure this goes without saying, but I’m going to say it: It’s so important to model patience, understanding, and respect when working in a classroom with any special learners. Celebrate their success and don’t sweat it if some accommodations don’t conform to what you are used to in the classroom. Keep in mind that some of these recommendations may be super helpful for some students, while others may not need the same degree of consideration. Autism can affect individuals differently.
To learn more about working with students with autism, visit The Autism Vault.
Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) such as Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), continually struggle over what they perceive as utterly pointless turns of phrase. Idioms are a minefield for these very literally-minded learners. Often children with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) respond to idiomatic expressions in a way that is perceived as “sassy”; however, the truth is, they do not understand idiom, metaphors or figurative language.
Difficult Idiomatic Phrase for ASD Children and Adults
The following is one Asperger’s Syndrome (Adult) learner’s response to common idioms: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” – Well, if they are chickens they’re already hatched.”Easy as Pie” – How easy is that?”I’m all ears” – Then what are you talking to me with?”He’ll get a taste of his own medicine” – Isn’t medicine supposed to be good for you?”You can’t have your cake and eat it too” – What kind of sick person would give you a cake, but not allow you to eat it?
Literal and Logical Meanings are Necessary for the ASD Child
These particular idioms are especially troublesome because literally they are illogical, which poses an extreme challenge to Asperger’s children and adults alike. Idioms are a challenging area of linguistics. There are literally hundreds of idiomatic phrases in the English language. Multilingual English learners have the most difficulty with them because they cannot be translated literally, and the smallest mistake in grammar or vocabulary changes the meanings of the phrase. Many first-language English speakers struggle with idioms as well; this is most evident in younger beginning readers. These younger children often make tremendous intuitive leaps interpreting figurative speech as their exposure to different expressions increases. These intuitive leaps may not be possible for the child with an autism spectrum disorder, and therefore, they need to learn these phrases by rote memory.
It is important to remember that the ASD child honestly has difficulty with metaphoric language, or figures of speech. Their highly literal minds are wired-differently than that of the “normal” or “neuro-typical” child. These children need to understand what you mean by the words you speak to them. Be clear, concise, and to the point. Speaking exactly what you mean, steering clear where possible of metaphors and other figurative language, will help you to communicate more effective with these highly literal minds.
Creating an effective educational curriculum for autistic children relies on identifying the unique strengths and challenges of your students. Autistic students are highly capable of learning, but they may need additional supports and accommodations to help them be as successful as possible in the classroom.
By identifying the learning styles of your students with autism, you can customize curriculum to increase students’ interest in the material and encourage better understanding of new concepts. With the right teaching approach, students can better incorporate the learning materials into their lives.
Curriculum for Autistic Children
When developing curriculum for autistic children, there are many social and educational factors that must be considered that neurotypical students do not face. The way autistic students interact, are impacted by their environment, and absorb new information must all be considered.
Three factors that are particularly important to take into consideration when developing curriculum for autistic children are social interaction, communication, and behavior.
Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience social interaction in different ways. They often have:
Students with ASD experience communication difficulties, such as:
Students with autism present with distinctive behavior challenges, including:
The above factors should be considered when developing curriculum for autistic students. They present certain challenges for teaching a group of students with autism, but when taken into consideration and met appropriately, they can be used as unique strengths with which to make learning more enjoyable and successful.
Customizing the Curriculum
In order to establish an appropriate curriculum for students with autism, it is important to identify specific assets and difficulties of your students.
Autistic students often present with learning styles that are different than those of neurotypical children. Primarily, people learn through a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, or hands-on, learning. People often favor two out of the three types of learning and can recognize if they are a strong visual learner or learn best through a hands-on approach.
Autistic students, however, tend to favor one type of learning. By observing the student, you will be able to determine how they learn best. Students who frequently select books, enjoy watching films, or pay close attention to people and objects are likely visual learners. Students who constantly take things apart and put them back together, open and close boxes or drawers, and handle objects to get a better understanding of them are likely kinesthetic learners.
Once you identify what type of learners your autistic students are, you can customize curriculum based on their learning strengths. The Autism Research Institute explains that teaching to the learning style of your students is a great way to make an impact on how well they attend to lessons and absorb new information.
Teacher Supports for Students With ASD
Students with autism can benefit from a variety of teacher supports and accommodations in the classroom. Depending on the level of severity of autism, moderate to more intense supports may be needed to make the classroom experience most effective.
Here are some strategies for classroom success and effective teacher support:
As a teacher of autistic students, it is important to know that you may also need additional support in your classroom. Schools offer individualized education programs, special education teachers, counselors, and other paraprofessionals to assist teachers who have students with special needs. Do not hesitate to reach out to appropriate school staff members who can help you establish and maintain a supportive classroom environment for all of your students.
Style of Teaching
There is no one-size-fits all style of teaching when it comes to working with children with autism and developmental disabilities. You will always need to recognize the needs and personalities of the students in your classroom to determine what will be the most effective approach. In general, flexibility and patience will go a long way in working with students on the spectrum.
One of the most important points of teaching students with autism is to treat each student as an individual. A teaching style that incorporates the needs and unique skills of each student is bound to be more successful than impressing a rigid teaching style onto your students.
Tips for Teaching Autistic Students
Each child with autism presents with strengths and challenges that will impact the classroom in different ways. The needs of each class and student will need to be evaluated and addressed individually, but it can be helpful to have a set of techniques in the back of your mind to use to establish a positive class environment.
Here are some tips for teaching students with autism:
The post below is by Lisa Smith, the mother of seven children, two with special needs. Her son Tate has autism. Lisa blogs about her experiences and can be found on Facebook at Quirks and Chaos or at quirks-and-chaos.blogspot.com. For more resources for teachers and help with inclusion and acceptance at school, check out the Autism Speaks School Community Tool Kit.
I have a follower who is a teacher and she asked me to do a “Ten things I’d like to tell teachers about autism” list. I came up with 12 things that I would tell my son’s teachers in grade school if I could go back in time.
1. Autism is a huge spectrum.
If you have taught other children with autism you may have a good general idea of what autism looks like but my son will still be different than the others. If you have questions about my son or how autism affects him, ask me. Nothing will impress me more about you than your willingness to learn about my son and his needs.
2. A routine and transition warnings are helpful for a child with autism.
While we know that flexibility is an important life skill and one we need to work on, my son does not handle surprises or big changes in his routine well. Things like a substitute teacher, a fire drill, or a field trip are all going to cause anxiety for my son. A warning and clear instructions will help. A visual schedule would be a helpful tool for my son. A five-minute warning, a two-minute warning, and tolerance are needed.
3. A child with autism needs extra time to process language.
Use simple language and short sentences. Give no more than two-step instructions. Give my son at least three full seconds after you make a statement or ask a question to respond. If you choose to repeat, do not rephrase, as then he will have to start processing over again. Trying to hurry my son will only slow him down further.
4. Receptive language and expressive language are two different things.
My son may understand much more than you think he does. He may not be able to put into words all the things he wants to say. On the other hand he may be able to quote long complicated phrases or passages without understanding any of the meaning of the words. It is difficult to know exactly what my child really knows and what he still needs to learn sometimes.
5. Children with autism are literal.
Figurative language and abstract ideas are a mystery to a child with autism. So, when you say things like, “Pick up the pace” and your other students know you want them to walk faster, my son will be looking for something called “pace” that he should be lifting from the floor. These things happen all day long.
6. A child with autism can get stuck on one subject.
My son obsesses about things that do not matter to you or I. He might want to talk about Disney movie characters for a long period of time and there will be little you can do to distract him. He gets stuck in a continuous loop. Occasionally these topics of interest can be incorporated into his learning but mostly they distract him from learning.
7. A child with autism may need help with social interactions.
My son will probably appear disinterested in his peers and he may actually be disinterested but he will never learn social skills unless we keep trying. You have him in a perfect setting for teaching social skills. It is an environment I cannot recreate at home. It would be so helpful if you would use every opportunity available there to teach and reteach social skills.
8. Sensory issues are a distraction for many children with autism.
Sounds that are barely noticeable to you may distract my child and keep him from learning. Textures may cause my son to recoil in disgust. Smells may cause him to gag. Please be considerate of this. Over stimulation can sometimes overwhelm him and cause a meltdown. A meltdown looks similar to a temper tantrum but it is not the same at all.
9. Children with autism use stereotypic behaviors or repetitive behaviors when they are excited, bored, or stressed.
My son will need redirection throughout the day. The behaviors will cause him to appear odd to his peers. Please consider giving the class an age appropriate definition of autism to help his peers understand.
10. Positive Reinforcement will be helpful but punishments will not.
Punishments or threats of punishment will probably result in anxiety and impede progress. He will work toward a reward but will shut down if he fears a punishment.
11. People with autism tell the truth as they see it.
My son may let you know you need to lose weight, you need a shave, or your breath smells bad. Do not take it personally. A sense of humor is a must when working with children with autism.
12. Kids with autism are not scary or unlovable. They are just different.
Sometimes different is intimidating but educating yourself about autism and about my son will help. I’m can help with that! I will willingly answer any questions you have.
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication. Parents often notice signs during the first three years of their child’s life. These signs often develop gradually, though some autistic children experience regression in their communication and social skills after reaching developmental milestones at a normal pace.
Autism is associated with a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Risk factors during pregnancy include certain infections, such as rubella, toxins including valproic acid, alcohol, cocaine, pesticides, fetal growth restriction and autoimmune diseases.
With the ever-growing population of children with autism, all educators must be well-versed in their needs and understand how to interact with them. Using the right tools will make a huge difference in their lives. Here are some steps teachers can take to help them learn, academically and socially:
Avoid Sensory Overload
Many unexpected things can be distracting to students with autism. Fluorescent lights, smells and noises from other students can make it difficult for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to concentrate. Using cool, calm colors in the classroom can help create a more relaxing atmosphere. Avoid covering the walls with too many posters or other things to look at. Some students may even benefit from their own space, where they can spend time away from any possible distractions.
Even individuals with autism can reap benefits from visuals. Visuals can serve as reminders about classroom rules, where certain things go and resources available to students. Using pictures and modelling will mean more to students with autism than a lengthy explanation.
If you have ever been a substitute teacher, you know about the unspoken anxiety of being with a different class (sometimes in a different school) every day. Having predictability in the classroom eases stress for students with ASD and will help avoid distraction. Students are less worried or curious about what will happen next and can focus on the work at hand. Give your students a schedule that they can follow. If there are any unpredictable changes, it is a great teaching moment to model how to handle changes appropriately.
Keep Language Concrete
If you were born in the 90s, you might remember the show Bobby’s Worldwith Howie Mandell. In the show, Bobby would always overhear adults using figurative language and daydream of all these crazy scenarios about what he thought they meant. Many individuals with autism have trouble understanding figurative language and interpret it in very concrete terms. This may serve as an excellent opportunity to teach figurative language and hidden meanings in certain terms.
Keep Voice Low and Clear
Keep your voice low and clear while teaching. Autistic children can become agitated and confused if a speaking voice is too loud. Excess talking between staff members should be kept to a minimum.
Directly Teach Social Skills
The hidden curriculum may be too hidden for some individuals with autism. Certain things may have to be explicitly taught (like analogies). Model appropriate social skills and discuss how our behavior can make others feel. The book You Are a Social Detective is a great book for kids with ASD as it explains social skills in an easy way to understand.
Limit Physical Contact
While physical contact might be a good strategy with all children, those with ASD cannot properly interpret body language and touch, so minimal body physical contact might be best.
Treat Students as Individuals
This goes without saying but it is crucial to model patience, understanding and respect when working in a classroom with special learners. Celebrate their success and don’t sweat it if some accommodations do not conform to what you are used to in the classroom. Keep in mind that some of these recommendations may be very helpful for some students while others may not need the same degree of consideration. Autism can affect individuals differently.
Let us know in the comment section below how you help kids with autism to learn.