Figurative Language Overview

A student who blurts out “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!” right before lunch may not realize he or she is using figurative language. Figurative language involves using words or phrases that do not have their everyday, literal meaning. When a student does use figurative language in the classroom, it becomes a teachable moment. In this case, the figurative language lesson plan practically writes itself.

Generally, teachers can use some help with lesson plans for teaching figurative language, and this page should provide teachers with useful background knowledge, figurative expressions for examples, and exercises for practicing figurative language. VocabularySpellingCity also has information for these specific types of figurative language: similes, metaphors, personification, idioms and hyperbole.

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Figurative language is present in literature and even in everyday speech; it is used to embellish and transform language. Therefore, students need to become familiar with figurative language to better communicate with others as well as to further understand literary text. Figurative language can be part of reading, writing, comprehension, and vocabulary instruction. Grade-level teachers include similes, metaphors, personification, idioms, and hyperbole in their lesson plans. Lessons on figurative language concepts are particularly difficult for students who are English Language Learners (ELLs), as they may not understand the nuances of the language.

K-12 teachers can find figurative language learning objectives, as they relate to reading comprehension, in the ELA Common Core State Standards for reading under the Craft and Structure strand. Starting in third grade, students are expected to demonstrate knowledge of literal and nonliteral (i.e. figurative) language. Objectives become substantially more rigorous, since by 11th and 12th grade, students are expected to analyze and interpret figures of speech, like hyperbole and paradox.

VocabularySpellingCity provides K-12 teachers with free figurative language resources. Ready-made figurative language word lists range from elementary to high school. Word lists can be used with interactive learning games, engaging activities, and printable worksheets to reinforce understanding of figurative language.

Students can play WhichWord? Sentences with a similes word list to learn how these figures of speech are used in practice. A Sentence Writing Practice activity would then allow students to try their hand at using each example of figurative language in a sentence. The MatchIt Definitions learning game will help students learn the definitions of the figures of speech. VocabularySpellingCity also recognizes the importance of student collaboration, and has created fun printable activities that students can work on together.

Types of figurative language:

Hyperbole – exaggeration used to emphasize a point or to add excitement or humor.

  • I can smell my mom’s brownies a mile away.
  • I have a ton of homework.
  • I’ve seen this movie a thousand times.

Idiom – expression in which the intended meaning is different from the literal meaning.

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • It’s raining cats and dogs.
  • Who let the cat out of the bag?

Metaphor – direct comparison between two dissimilar things.

  • Her voice was music to my ears.
  • You are my knight in shining armor.
  • Snow covered the streets in a white blanket.

Personification – literary device used to give human characteristics to nonhuman objects.

  • The palm trees were dancing in the wind.
  • The carved pumpkin smiled at us.
  • The car’s engine coughed its last breath.

Simile – comparison between two unlike things using the word “like” or “as.”

  • The teenager is as hungry as a wolf.
  • The old man is as wise as an owl.
  • The new dad is as proud as a peacock.

View Common Core State Standards Related to Figurative LanguageClose

Common Core State Standards Related to Figurative Language

Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings.

Distinguish the literal and nonliteral meanings of words and phrases in context.

Explain the meaning of simple similes and metaphors (e.g., as pretty as a picture) in context.

Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.