Introduction to Figurative Language: Metaphors

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10533

Are you a smart cookie? After this lesson on metaphors, you will be! You'll be a shining star in the literary sky when you learn to use these pearls of language in your writing! It's a monster lesson!



English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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It's raining cats and dogs!

"How do you know?"

"I just stepped in a poodle!" HAHAHAHAHAHA!

OK, it's not that funny, but the image is a good use of a metaphor. What's a metaphor?

Please don't say it's a place to feed cows. Read on to get it right!

Welcome to the Wacky World of Metaphors!

This is Lesson Two in the Introduction to Figurative Language series. If you have not yet completed the previous Related Lessons, please go to the right-hand sidebar and do that now before proceeding.

Look at the picture

You may have heard the saying pictured in the cartoon or other sayings similar to it. Take a very close look at what is being said and why. We know that cats and dogs are not actually falling from the sky. This kind of saying is called a "metaphor."

A metaphor is not actually true; it is a way of describing something by comparing it to something that seems completely unrelated but shares some common quality or idea. Metaphors do not use "like" or "as" (those comparisons are called similes, as you learned in the previous lesson). Metaphors simply say one thing is another.

Metaphors are used to enhance writing and make it more interesting for the reader. Sometimes, metaphors don’t seem to make sense, but through visualization or humor, you get the point. In the above metaphor, rain is being compared to cats and dogs. Let's see why this popular, or cliché, metaphor makes sense — why people take it to mean that it is raining hard.

This saying originated somewhere. Some believe it's a variation on "fighting like cats and dogs," simply meaning very nasty weather, while others believe the saying comes from 16th century England when pets were kept on thatched roofs. When it rained, the rooftops would become slippery, causing the animals to fall. Whatever the origin, this metaphor is still used today.

  • What other words might make a good rain metaphor? Can you think of a few?
  • What do you think when you hear, "It's raining buckets?"
  • Can you think of other weather-related metaphors?

Look at a few more

Her hair is a fiery sunset.

  • What is being compared? "Hair" and "fiery sunset"
  • What do the two have in common that makes this comparison make sense? They are both red.
  • This may be a compliment on someone's red hair.

"Firework," by Katy Perry
"You're a firework"

  • What is being compared? Here a person is being compared to a firework.
  • What could a person and a firework have in common? Here are some characteristics of a firework.

A firework is

  • loud.
  • bright.
  • colorful.
  • vibrant.
  • something that makes people stop and watch.

Could a person have these same characteristics?

Yes! She is telling people that they are all bright and vibrant and have something in them that makes people want to stop and watch. It is a positive comparison.

Andy is a walking dictionary.

  • What is being compared? Andy and a dictionary
  • Why might someone call Andy a walking dictionary? What is a dictionary? What is its function?

Right, a dictionary contains words and their definitions, so it is possible that Andy has an extensive vocabulary; he knows many words and their definitions.

To review what makes a metaphor different, watch "Similes and Metaphors" by The Bazillions from TheBazillions:

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When you're comfortable with metaphors, continue on to the Got It? section for some practice.

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