15 February 2014

Teaching Figurative Language

Sometimes, with all the best will in the world, and even with eons of research and hours of planning, the best lessons are the spontaneous ones. The ones that serendipitously arise from teachable moments. I experienced such as occasion over the past week.

Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory
My Year 8s are learning about different cultures and traditions around the world. Underpinning the unit is the novel Ties That Bind, Ties That Break by Lensey Namioke, which concerns foot binding in China at the beginning of the twentieth century. From this, I teach note-taking and search strategies, while groups learn to research customs and traditions of a country of their choice. The culmination of the project is an exhibition of their findings.

A new teacher joined our team part way through this unit. She wanted to have a piece of writing to gauge her class's needs. So, as part of the novel study, we built in personal account writing. I developed the task for my class to write a diary entry or blog post in character about an important event. We discussed purpose and audience, and we learned about past tense and first person. As an extension, we asked for similes and metaphors - but this ended up being a major focus for my class.

Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory
I happened to be reading The Impossible Knife of Memory at the same time, and found some excellent passages, which also led to a reading and analysis of Dulce et Decorum est! We covered more than simile and metaphor, and learned about denotation, connotation, personification and anthropormorphism. This developed into a mini unit that explored how we think and talk about a writer’s choice of language and the effect on the reader.

The results were astounding. Every learner wrote a personal account that showed a detailed understanding of the character using past tense and first person. Each learner included some figurative language. Some learners brought tears to my eyes because of the incredible imagery they used. I was blown away by some learners who, even though they are second language learners, have grasped the concept of metaphor and personification, and have crafted language that brings the emotions of Ailin vividly off the page. I am going to ask permission to share some of their work, as it is truly astounding.

And all from reading the right book at the right time.

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