When I was 11 years old I remember struggling to understand the concept of a metaphor. There is a wonderful poem, The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes which opens with three super metaphorical descriptions to set the scene…
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
However, my difficulty, as a child was that I felt I could never achieve the brilliance of this poet. In many ways it was a top-down approach to learning about metaphor, beginning with the finest examples and then, me and the rest of the class trying desperately hard to mimic at a sub-standard level the concept in our own writing. So one thing I’m keen to do, is to introduce metaphor from a bottom-up approach starting with what children do best…
One of the strengths about working in a natural setting is that it can help children develop their imagination through the use of metaphor in nature. When children play in a wood or on a beach, they quickly start using one object to represent another. For example in the photo below, the tree trunk has become a house and the children are using the bark as plates.
Taking this concept and adapting it is helpful for older children when formally introduced to the concept of a metaphor. There is a book called Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis which demonstrates very simply how a stick is used lots of different ways. It is not a stick!
Children can find a stick outside, bring it back to the gathering space and the class can enjoy doing a dramatic round, where they take it in turns to show what their stick has become, “It’s not a stick, it’s a … ” and everyone can mime the idea. As we all know, sticks can be fishing rods, light sabers, wands and many other things.
From here, children can research traditional sayings and idioms that use metaphors and learn about what they mean. Ones that spring to mind include:
- Turning over a new leaf
- Barking up the wrong tree
- Stone the crows
As a follow up, undertake a simple activity like a leaf slide show. The children study the patterns and structure of leaves by holding them up to the sunlight. What does the vein pattern below remind you of? A star? The skin of an alien?
Children can use this as a brainstorming opportunity to come up with loads of ideas and narrow them down to one or two favourites. Once a simple metaphor has been chosen, such as a star, then a child can up level this to a more descriptive metaphor such as “The leaf is a star-bursting sun filter.” (That’s my quick idea which children almost always better!)
From here, the class can start enjoying The Highwayman and other fine examples of metaphor and hopefully will be inspired by such a classic poem knowing that they too, can write effectively this way.