Figurative language is an essential component of language arts – both reading and writing. But finding figurative language activities for middle school (and high school!) that aren’t simply rote memorization and worksheets can be a struggle. These activities take a unique approach to learning and practicing figurative language in everyday life.
What Is Figurative Language?
The term figurative language is used to describe the creative ways we use language to communicate beyond the literal definition of our words.
Examples of figurative language include:
If you have a child who has been diagnosed with a learning difference that includes social communication issues, these “figures of speech” tend to trip up our kiddos the most.
Because my children have struggled with how to interpret and apply figurative language, I have seen how lackluster and ineffective some of the activities for learning can be.
Primary Forms Of Figurative Language
In order to best help my son become more proficeint in figurative language, I needed to first remind myself what all of the forms of figurative language actually were (being honest here!).
Here are quick and easy definitions of each of the primary forms of figurative language:
Simile is used to directly compare two things, typically with “like” or “as.”
Examples of simile in figurative language:
- That’s light as a feather.
- We’re like two peas in a pod.
Personification is a figure of speech used to give human qualities to something that’s not human.
Examples of personification:
- Time flies when you are having fun.
- The light danced across the window sill.
This is a style or technique where we see a repetition of the initial sounds in two or more neighboring words.
Examples of alliteration:
- Even elephants enjoy eating eggs every day.
- She sells sea-shells on the seashore.
Alliterations are often difficult to pronounce, but fun to try and say. For a child in speech therapy, alliteration is often employed to help with any sounds that are a struggle.
Hyperbole is what we use when we exaggerate to make a point.
Examples of hyperbole:
- I’ve listened to this audiobook a million times.
- I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.
Metaphors are the ones we most commonly use in everyday language, but can be the most difficult for our children to understand (especially if you have a literal thinker!).
Examples of metaphor:
- He has ants in his pants.
- That is music to my ears.
Idioms are well-known expressions that make a point that is different than what they actually day. If you thought metaphors were tough for your child, idioms will likely take some time to learn.
Examples of idioms:
- She got cold feet before the wedding.
- It’s raining cats and dogs.
How We Teach Figurative Language
When my son was in speech therapy, his therapist used a lot of flash cards and worksheets to try and help him understand and use figurative language. This approach did not work. He was bored to tears and couldn’t keep track of all the “names” (i.e. simile vs. metaphor vs. idiom).
As I thought about my own use of figurative language as an adult, I realized that I never think about the terms themselves. I simply use the various figures of speech to more creatively communicate. I realized that I am much more concerned about him using figurative language than I am his being able to define it!
Instead of focusing on the definitions, I instead began employing fun, every day, interactive exercises to help my son better grasp the use of figurative language.
17 Figurative Language Activities For Middle School And High School Learners
Here are some of my absolute favorites for learning about and practicing figurative language in everyday life.
Start With Songs
Because songs are typically rich with descriptive, creative lyrics, they are a great place to start for an older learner. I print out the lyrics of my son’s favorite songs with a larger font, double spaced. This makes it easier for him to read (he is profoundly dyslexic) and we then go through and highlight any examples of figurative language.
(As an aside, don’t discount rap. Some of the most powerful metaphors we have discovered in this activity have come from my son’s favorite rap artists.)
Pick A Favorite Book
My son has listened to and read the Harry Potter series so many times, he can recite entire passages by heart. Now, we go through and look for examples of figurative language in these books. He is familiar enough with the story to more easily manage the information.
(Plus, “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have” is one of my son’s favorite Hermione quotes.)
Make It A Game
I know this goes without saying, but games make learning so much more fun. The good news is, there are many games that encourage playing with figurative language.
For example, these metaphor dice make learning hands-on and so much more fun.
We even played a game as part of The Learners Lab with Colleen Kessler last month all about idioms.
Pick A Work Of Art
Art naturally lends itself to figurative language. Trying to describe why one work of art speaks to you (see what I did there) generally requires the use of figurative language.
We take some time to look through an art book and each choose a favorite. Then, we try to describe it in the most outrageous ways possible. My son pretends to be a pretentious art critic and I check language arts off the list for the day.
Like art, poetry is a natural place to go for exposure to and a discussion of figurative language.
Don’t Forget The Bard
The works of Shakespeare include figurative language throughout. Interestingly, many children with dyslexia actually do well with Shakespeare as the cadence and rhyme can help a struggling reader anticipate what’s next in a sentence. This has certainly been the case for my son, and the added bonus to our Shakespeare study is being able to easily incorporate discussions around figurative language.
Describe Your Best Friend
This activity is exactly what it sound like – use the craziest over the top language to describe your friend. He takes a turn and then I do the same.
Describe Your Pet
This is just like the activity to describe your friend, but it is about your pet instead. I find my son is more easily able to apply figurative language to a describing his service dog, Sammy, than any other creature on the planet.
Look At Pictures
We have pulled out pictures from his early childhood and used figurative language to describe what’s happening in the picture, or what he remembers about that timeframe.
Listen To Classical Music
See art above – the same thing applies to classical music!
Pick A Color
Have you ever tried to describe a color? Ask your child to pick their favorite and explain why. Figurative language is sure to follow.
Walking about and describing nature is a great way to add a figurative language activity to your day. The easiest place to start? Lie down on a picnic blanket, look up and describe the clouds.
Your Favorite Season
Describing your favorite season is another way to incorporate figurative language into your everyday conversation.
Watch Your Favorite Show
My son and I watch YouTube videos together daily. Because of this, I am on the look-out for figurative language, especially humorous figurative language. When it comes up, I causally repeat what they said and we may talk a bit more about it, especially if it’s an idiom or something difficult for my son to understand.
Research Brand Slogans
“America runs on Dunkin’”
“We put the fun in funeral”
“Just Do it”
All are forms of figurative language used to convey emotion in brand marketing.
A Figure Of Speech Day
When I am trying to help my son remember the difference between a simile and a metaphor (which I honestly don’t focus on all that much – as I said, I am much more concerned about him using figurative language than I am his being able to define it) I may designate a day of the week as a simile day. This means he and I randomly come up with similes throughout the day. I keep a tally tracker and almost always let him win.
Tell An Embarrassing Story
This can be a really natural, fun way to inspire figurative language. Describing the events in way that conveys embarrassment often lends itself to figurative language.
Here’s a quick list of all 17 figurative language activities to help you get started!
- Start With Songs
- Pick A Favorite Book
- Make It A Game
- Pick A Work Of Art
- Add Poetry
- Don’t Forget The Bard
- Describe Your Best Friend
- Describe Your Pet
- Look At Pictures
- Listen To Classical Music
- Pick A Color
- Go Outside
- Your Favorite Season
- Watch Your Favorite Show
- Research Brand Slogans
- A Figure Of Speech Day
- Tell An Embarrassing Story