You are about to witness high schools students battling. But don’t worry, it won’t be them actually punching each other in the throat, like what you can find on YouTube simply by searching the name of your high school followed by the word “fights.” Below is a short clip of my Figurative Language Battle. It is the best way I have for getting kids to fear clichés while beginning to use similes and metaphors that are weird and interesting.
For the last two weeks, I have been using my “Teaching House on Mango Street” Unit, and my students have written 4 autobiographical narratives: “My House”, “Hairs”, “My Name”, and “My Neighbor.” During the writing of these vignettes, I have talked to them endlessly about the difference between a good simile and a cliché. I have told them I want their similes and metaphors to be weird, strange and crazy—the weirder the better.
Using my Prewriting Handouts (available in my Unit) for each draft, students took their time and brainstormed figurative language they could use to describe their house, name, neighbors, and especially the hairs of their family members. As students brainstormed and wrote on their Prewriting Sheets, I went around the room working the rows and helped them think of weird similes to describe the people they know.
After the Prewriting, I gave the students 20 minutes to write a first draft. So at the end of about two weeks, each kid has already written over ten pages of narratives.
Taking all of this writing, I had them go home and write down 4-5 of their best lines of figurative language in preparation for today’s battle. You can download the lesson plan as well as my Lit Terms sheet at the bottom of this post.
The video you are about to witness takes place in the thick of the battle. I am calling students up to face-off at random, and the class votes for whose lines are better, and the winner goes to the next round. The kids also know that if they use a cliché, they will be booed off stage (Note: Their faces are censored for purposes of confidentiality). Check it:
I have to say the similes I’ve been getting this year are the best I’ve seen students come with in first drafts. I think it has to do with my intensive Prewriting Sheets. I have really had students take their time thinking of similes, interior monologue, and what scenes they want to locate before even getting started on the initial draft. And it seems to be paying off. The first boy in this video used the simile, “My dad’s hair is messy, like the end of a party.” THAT IS DOPE! And I have to say I have never gotten anything like that in past years, not because the students weren’t capable, but because I didn’t take my time to get them to think so deeply about figurative language before they even began to write. Let’s see who won:
That’s right, the boy LOST. That is because the girl said, “My name is like a burrito because it has beans and rice like a Latin plate, but the outside of the name is more Americanized.” THAT IS EVEN DOPER! She is talking about the white, bland tortilla. The burrito symbolizes her name because she is Latina, but has a white girl’s name. I talked to them about using metaphors that have to do with their cultures, especially metaphors that highlight the dichotomy between their Latino and American cultures. As you can see, it worked.
This is the perfect kinesthetic activity that is both fun, and deeply applicable to serious writing. In the past, I’ve had students write “It was dark, like a cave,” up until the last week of school. But today, after just three weeks, my kids absolutely FEAR clichés, and are looking for weird, cultural metaphors in their autobiographical narratives.
Download this Lesson Plan for free—both my Figurative Language Battle Lesson Plan and the corresponding Writing Devices Handout: