Elevating Rhymes with Figurative Language
Few elements of writing separate great writers from average writers as clearly as the intelligent use of metaphors and similes. A well-placed simile can get a reader smiling faster than a politician on debate night. Ironically, most students, especially those who listen to hip-hop, are very familiar with how metaphors and similes sound in a song but struggle to understand the idea of figurative language in the classroom.
In our experience, very few students will instinctively use a metaphor or simile in the basic vocabulary lesson mentioned above. If one does-terrific! Use that students work to introduce the concept. If not, this lesson plan should help.
Step 1: Teach the concept
Metaphor a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them; a creative comparison
Simile a metaphor-like comparison that uses the word like or as
Step 2: Model each type of figurative languageGreat rap lyrics are built upon metaphors and similes. Rappers use similes to bring their rhymes to life, and they are usually the phrases that stay with you long after you hear an amazing verse. A good simile can transform an average piece of writing into one that's exceptional.
There are plenty of examples from popular rap lyrics. You could even ask students to find their favorites as an assignment. Here are two examples:
I'm full strength like a Cyclops's eye drops,
I got support like high-tops.
- Ugly Duckling, Left Behind.
In these two lines, Ugly Duckling rapper Dizzy Dustin combines two creative similes with a mythological allusion. His use of figurative language brings these lines to life. How powerful is he? About as strong as Visine would have to be for a giant one-eyed monster. How much love does he gets from fans? More support than ankle-covering basketball shoes. As Dizzy Dustin knows, great similes create vivid mental images.
Im cooler than a polar bears toenails.
- Big Boi, Atliens
In this last case, Big Boi (from the group Outkast) could have just said, I'm cool, and that would have been fine. After all, hes a famous rapper. He also could have just said, I'm cooler than a polar bear, and that would have been a great metaphor. But Big Boi, being a talented lyricist, took his writing to the next level and came up with a metaphor that helps us imagine the coldest extremity of that cold-weather animal. That's powerful writing.Practice using figurative language
Have students complete the following independently or break into teams and make lists for each:
Similes: I'm as sharp as a(n) _____________
I keep it fresh like _____________
Metaphors: Life is a(n) _____________
School is a(n) _____________
The great thing about these exercises is that there are no wrong answers. If a student can back up why she said that life is a hair dryer, then that's a correct answer.
Step 4: WriteUsing the worksheet Flocab Formula for Figurative Language Rhymes, students can create their own rhymes. See the worksheet here.
Step 5: Expand to other figurative language
On our blog, we've got examples of other types of figurative language found in rap music, from alliteration to zeugma.
Common Core Standards for English Language Arts
Text Types and Purposes
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
Production and Distribution of Writing
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
SPEAKING AND LISTENING
Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
English-Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
1.2–Identify and interpret figurative language and words with multiple meanings.
3.7–Explain the effects of common literary devices (e.g., symbolism, imagery, metaphor) in a variety of fictional and non-fictional texts.
1.1–Identify idioms, analogies, metaphors, and similes in prose and poetry.
1.1–Analyze idioms, analogies, metaphors, and similes to infer the literal and figurative meanings of phrases.
3.6–Identify significant literary devices (e.g., metaphor, symbolism, dialect, irony) that define a writer's style and use those elements to interpret the work.
1.1–Identify and use the literal and figurative meanings of words and understand word derivations.
2.5–Extend ideas presented in primary or secondary sources through original nalysis, evaluation, and elaboration.
3.7–Recognize and understand the significance of various literary devices, including figurative language, imagery, allegory, and symbolism, and explain their appeal.
Listening and Speaking
1.3–Interpret and evaluate the various ways in which events are presented and information is communicated by visual-image makers (e.g., graphic designers, documentary filmmakers, illustrators, news photographers).
National Standards for English-Language Arts
4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language. (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).