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3 Ways to Show Students the Power of Figurative Language

Lessons and activities for teaching figurative language

Are your students like mine? They can parrot back the definitions of figurative devices and find them in a text, but when I ask them to analyze their purpose, or to use them effectively in their own writing, they often fall up short. I find that many of them have a pretty superficial understanding of figurative language, and they certainly don't understand its power. So, I've come up with some lessons and activities that show them how and why they need to become friends with it. Stick with me -- you might get some inspiration and a freebie or two!

Lessons and activities for teaching figurative languageFor some reason, when I start throwing around words like metaphor and personification – words my students associate with poetry – eyes start to glaze over and fear sets in. To prevent this, I attempt to show them why they should care. So many parts of their world are full of figurate language. I point out that we speak in metaphors all of the time. We use analogies to help explain ourselves. Advertisements and songs are full of imagery, both visual and oral. I tell students that songwriters and advertisers use these tools because they know they add depth to their messages, and because they make us pay attention. Then, we do an exercise that shows them just how prevalent figurative language is in their lives. I give them a couple of graphic organizers and send them home to search for it in the media, on their playlists and in the things the people around them say (grab them here).

Lessons and activities for teaching figurative languageOnce they've had a chance to see how often they interact with figurative language, we talk about why they should use it themselves. For example if they want to convince their English teacher to delay an essay for one day, they could try some hyperbole and litotes: "We have a mountain of problems we need to do for calculus tonight, so it's not the best time for us to focus on writing a great essay for you."  If they want to argue that they should be able to use their phones to look up synonyms, they can call the paper thesaurus a dinosaur. Point out that any time they want to communicate, whether it's for an essay or in a conversation, figurative language can help them do so in a more powerful way.  

Next, give them opportunities to try it for themselves.

Before I ask my students to analyze figurative language in the texts they read, I want them to actively engage with it themselves. Writing their own allusions, similes and metaphors will help them understand how and why other writers use them, because they've had experience using these devices themselves. We do this in a number of ways. First, after students do a writing prompt, we'll spend a few minutes looking for ways to use figurative language to strengthen their points. I ask them to read over their responses and find one place where they could add a simile, metaphor or any other device to their writing.  Soon, they get in the habit of reaching for this technique when they need to develop their ideas.

Lessons and activities for teaching figurative language

My favourite active learning exercises usually involve collaboration. When my students were having trouble writing their own metaphors earlier this semester, I created a metaphor challenge for them. They had a grand time trying to "out-metaphor" each other, and by the time they were done, they had a much deeper understanding of how the device works. Since then, I've added personification, allusion, idiom and hyperbole challenges too!

I also ask my students to consider how they can use figurative language in all of their writing assignments, not just ones that focus on description and narration. Expository and persuasive writing benefits from these devices too, so I use mentor texts that illustrate this, and then encourage my kids to use it in their writing. All of my revision activities and stations require students to spend some time thinking about where they could use figurative language to enhance the points that they make.

Lessons and activities for teaching figurative languageThey may not say it out loud, but students want us to give them a challenge, something that makes them stretch their mental muscles a bit. Asking them to memorize terminology and spew it back in a test is not the best way to engage them in real learning. Instead, provide them with activities that require them to show that they really understand how and why authors use figurative language in their work. 

Lessons and activities for teaching figurative languageWhen we start doing this in my room, we have a lot of small group discussions, so students can work on their analysis together. I give each group a passage in a text that is full of figurative language. They need to identify it first and then decide on it's purpose: why did the author choose this device? What effect is s/he trying to achieve? After they've had a chance to do this with others, I ask students to start analyze the use of figurative language on their own. You can grab the organizers I give my groups by clicking here.

My students have come a long way from that hot September afternoon when they couldn't come up with original metaphors. Now, I see and hear all kinds of figurative language in their writing and speaking assignments, which means that now I know that they really understand its power.

The rest of the Coffee Shop gals have some amazing lessons for figurative language too. Check it out!

Nouvelle ELA: Figurative Language Task Cards

Thanks for reading!

How to Get Students to Write More

Informal writing is a fantastic way to get students to write more, and it helps build endurance and excitement for the written word. Here are some ideas and a freebie to get you started. (Blog post by Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop)

3 Informal Ways to Get Students to Write More

Hey, y’all! Danielle here, from Nouvelle ELA, and this week, we’re talking about ways to get students to write more.

We all know how important it is to give students opportunities to build their confidence and skills as writers, and we want to equip them with all of the necessary tools. Well, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the easiest tool: informal writing. Informal writing is a fantastic way to get students to write more, and it helps build endurance and excitement for the written word.

Informal writing is a great tool for writers of all skill levels, and it doesn’t have to mean more work for you! In fact, I’ve had a lot of success with not grading informal writing for content, and just letting students use it as good practice.

Today, I want to show you three ideas to get students to write more. These ideas all stem from my experience as a student, and have inspired the way I teach. What does that mean? Well, I wrote a massive amount as a middle school and high school student, so I try to share these same opportunities to get my own students to write more.

Informal writing is a fantastic way to get students to write more, and it helps build endurance and excitement for the written word. Here are three easy ways to get your students to write more and a freebie to get you started. (Blog post from Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop)

1. Shared Notebooks (metalogues)

My earliest experiences with a shared notebook was passing one around between our group of friends in middle school. We’d write notes, stories (I’ll admit – some of it was super dorky N*Sync fanfiction!), and personal thoughts on our classes and the day. We’d write during every free moment, and the best part was receiving the notebook to look at what others had written! (And no, this didn’t take away from our classes – we were all good students.)

Recently, I read For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin, and he uses Shared Notebooks in a more intentional way he calls metalogues. He carves out a portion of his class time and has students write and reflect about the lesson in a rotation with their metalogue group. He uses this technique to solidify learned concepts (much like an Exit Slip) and foster classroom community. Students get to write for its primary purpose - communication - and develop skills and fluency in the process.

2. Personal Journals

I have kept a journal since I was eleven, and I remember writing in it several times a week as a teenager and in college. Lately though, I’ve really fallen out of the habit. I decided to make myself a 30-day challenge for October to get back into the groove. I designed the prompts to work in five minutes or less, and I incorporated a lot of “quick wins” for myself, like days where all I had to write was a “high” and a “low” from the day.

Well, this is totally something students can benefit from as well. They need to know that writing uses muscles (mental and physical), and that we need to build those muscles through daily workouts. Informal writing is a great low-risk way to get that workout in! I developed this journaling resource from my own challenges to "workout" daily, and you can try a free week from it. 

You can also visit my TeachersPayTeachers store and grab the full year of my 5-Minute Journal Prompts. These are editable and easy-to-implement, and they'll give your students that daily workout they need.

3. NaNoWriMo

Y’all, it’s November, and that means it’s NaNoWriMo in my life. Every November, writers of every caliber get together from all over the world to celebrate National Novel Writing Month. The premise is simple: write 50,000 words of an original novel in 30 days. You win honor and glory and bragging rights, and you will have done an awesome thing.

I first did NaNoWriMo when I was a freshman in high school, and yes, I finished! (I actually wrote fanfiction, but we won’t talk about that…) I did it completely outside of school and unprompted by my teachers, but I would have LOVED having it be a class thing. Now, I share it with my students and keep my running word count on the top of the white board.

Now, NaNoWriMo is a lot more popular (when I first did it, the website was terrible and didn’t even have a word count!) and there are many variations to make it student-ready for any level. Students can set any word count goal, and the Young Writers Program has a bunch of teacher resources available to you.

Also, you can share awesome Pep Talks with your students from professional writers who have been there and felt the pain and struggle of a first draft. Here’s John Green’s take on NaNoWriMo:

So, I know I’m late to the November game, but you still have time to get some writing in before the winter holidays. Carve out some dedicated writing time, and let your students show you what they can do! I promise, you won't be disappointed. :)

Informal writing is a fantastic way to get students to write more, and it helps build endurance and excitement for the written word. Here are some ideas and a freebie to get you started. (Blog post by Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop)

That’s it for me, folks! What are your favorite ways to incorporate informal writing in the classroom? Let us know in comments, or reach out on Instagram at @secondaryenglishcoffeeshop. We LOVE hearing from you!

Here are some other great resources for bringing more writing into your classroom:

Building Stamina and Skill (Blog Post by Room 213)
Video Journal Prompts (Resource by Presto Plans)
Growth Mindset Journal for Teens (Resource by The SuperHERO Teacher)
Career Writing Prompts (Resource by The Classroom Sparrow)
Classroom Community Bellringers (Resource by The Daring English Teacher)

Espresso Shot: Our Favorite Blog Posts

I wish that I could go back and introduce first-year teacher me to the teacher community I am now a part of: a treasure-trove of wisdom, advice, ideas, help, and digital shoulders to cry on. 

While we all love sitting around our virtual coffee table here and sharing our ideas, many of us have our own blogs, and this week we thought we’d search out our favorite posts, and leave them here for you, all in one place. You’re welcome. ;-) 

Strategies for Teaching Text Annotation 
by The Daring English Teacher

One of the first lessons I teach every year, regardless of the grade-level I am teaching, is how to closely read and annotate a text. Because I feel this is such a valuable skill for students, I carve out a week of my instruction in the beginning of the school year to help my students get more comfortable with annotating text. [...more] 

by The Classroom Sparrow

Yes, interactive notebooks can be useful in middle and high school classes too! If your students are anything like mine, you know they love all things interactive. So, why not try engaging them in a different way from the norm? [...more] 

This is a serious issue in secondary classrooms when the required reading is longer and can't be completed in class. There are not enough hours in the semester to get it all done as it is, and besides, kids read at such vastly different rates that some are finished long before others. [...more] 

Writing Folders in My Secondary Classroom by Addie Williams

I decided to try something new in my ELA classes last year and I was so thrilled with how it worked out that I'm going to do it again this year!  After years of trying to organize students with binders that explode with paper and lost assignments I knew I had to try something different. [...more]

When you can’t avoid bringing student work home, it doesn’t have to be total misery! Check out this list of ideas to help you bring some organization and peace into your evenings. [...more]
15 TV Episodes to Use in ELA by Nouvelle ELA

We’re in a golden age of television, so why not use these fantastic episodes to teach literary devices, plot, and more, all in ONE class period? Check out this list to get started. [...more]
Teaching Growth Mindset in the Secondary Classroom by TheSuperHERO Teacher

We're all familiar with the importance of growth mindset, but often times we see growth mindset being taught at the lower levels as opposed to middle and high school classrooms.  We, as teachers, have the opportunity to change that! [...more]

7 Bell Ringer Ideas for the Middle & High School English by Presto Plans
If you asked me what teaching resource I could not live without, I would 100% say bell-ringers!  They absolutely transformed the first 5-10 minutes of chaos in my classroom and also engage my students in thoughtful discussion, reflective writing, and new learning. Below are my 7 favorite ways to start my English classes with bell-ringers. [...more] How to Engage Students in the First Few Minutes of a Lesson  by Stacey Lloyd

A few weeks ago she asked me how to get students to ‘come to the party’; how to entice them to engage and participate in the learning experience so that it wasn’t a one-sided affair. Yikes! What a question.This got me thinking and I came to an interesting realization: In the first five minutes, I can tell how a lesson is going to be received. [...read more] 

6 Tips For A Successful Lit Circle In A Secondary Classroom

I love doing Lit Circles or Reading Circles in my classroom and at my school we have a well established routine that works well across all of the grades. We don't all read the same novel, instead we offer 5-6 titles to the class and students are grouped by the book of their choice.  I believe strongly that students be given the opportunity to pick their book so I give a quick book talk about each book and then give students time to sample several books before picking the one they want to read.  Students usually end up with a book that they're quite happy with!  (Our librarian does a great job of creating themed book kits for each grade level.)

I also don't assign students roles - students are all given the same guidelines and requirements for each Lit Circle Meeting where they are required to come prepared with discussion questions and more!  Here are some tips and tricks I've picked up along the way for running a successful Lit Circle with secondary students when using ANY NOVEL and when student groups are reading different novels.
I allow students to pick a book from a selection of 5-6 titles that are all based on a similar theme. Some students pick titles based on what their friends pick, but most will pick based on their interest.  I have 5 copies of each title so I end up with groups of 4-5 students depending on class size.  We have spent time at my school working together to create kits of books that we are confident that students will enjoy at each grade level.  For example our 9th Grade Kit is themed around "Overcoming Adversity" and includes the following very popular books:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
Moon at Nine - Deborah Ellis
Zero - Diane Tullson
A Little Piece of Ground - Elizabeth Laird
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
Monster - Walter Dean Myers
It is crucial to be organized when running the lit circles, especially if you have groups reading different novels.  My Novel Study Activities for Any Novel has everything you need to run a successful Lit Circle - student reading schedules, organizers, final projects and chapter summary templates are just a few of the things that can be found in this package - be sure to check it out HERE.  I have run Lit Circles for many, many years using the schedule and reading logs included in this pack!
I typically give students 4 weeks to complete a novel study and therefore it's crucial I create a strict reading schedule.  Within their 4 week study they complete activities for each Lit Circle Meeting and then a final project.  Students divide the number of pages in their book by four and come up with the number of pages they must read per week.  For the most part however, students complete their books well before they need to because typically they really enjoy them.  I do however, monitor their reading through their Lit Circle Meetings - I make sure to stop by each meeting, engage in the discussion, check that all work has been completed and that students are on task.  Student reading schedules are included in my Reading Journal resource!
With Lit Circles my students meet 1-2 times per week as a group to discuss the book.  Students must come to the meeting with a favorite quote, three questions for their classmates and having read up to the designated point in the book.  Students share and discuss their quotes, answer each others questions and generally share ideas they have about the book.  I allow students about 30 minutes for their meeting - although there have been many days when we've gone longer due to some awesome discussions.  
Students are given ample reading time in my class.  I know that many of them have after school jobs, compete in sports, are active in clubs and generally quite busy.  Allowing students to complete some of their reading in class means there is less pressure on them to squeeze it in among everything else. It also emphasizes the importance I place on reading.  If the weather is nice, we'll read outside. Sometimes we'll read in the school library using their comfy chairs and quiet spaces.  Creating a quiet space for my students to ready comfortably is important to me so I've added reading lamps (softer light) to a few corners of my room and some cosy chairs the kids rotate through.
Hopefully your students have enjoyed the books they've read so much that they want to share with their classmates.  Grab this FREE book review template to use with your students... have them work on it individually and then complete one collaboratively as a group.  I have asked each book group to present their novel to the class (being sure not to give away the ending or anything too juicy!).  Often students want to read the other books, and if I'm lucky I can use the same set of books twice with each class.  Students just read a different book the second time!

For more awesome resources that will work with ANY novel please check out the links below from my fellow Coffee Shop ladies.

Independent Novel Study - The Classroom Sparrow
Learning Stations for Any Novel Study - Room 213
50 Creative Activities for Any Novel - Presto Plans
The Novel - A Unit for Any Novel - The Daring English Teacher
Chapter Study Guide for Any Novel - Secondary Sara
Editable Reading Guide for Class Novels & Independent Reading - Nouvelle ELA

Using Interactive Bulletin Boards to Transform Your Classroom

Hello, teachers-- The SuperHERO Teacher here! If you're reading this, my hope is that you're interested in learning a bit more about interactive bulletin boards and how they can drastically improve your classroom atmosphere.  Interactive bulletin boards serve SO much more than just classroom decor-- they can actually improve your students' skills. Keep reading if you want to learn how! PS: I include a free classroom bookshelf resource, too! 

What is an interactive bulletin board? Great question! Interactive bulletin boards are pieces of purposeful classroom decor that can help students strengthen their skills and provide reinforcement and enrichment opportunities.  Students can physically get up from their desks and interact with the bulletin board-- whether it includes engaging tasks or movable pieces! 

Imagine this: You're teaching a creative writing unit and a few of your students have writer's block.  We've all been there and we know how frustrating it can be!  You can use an interactive bulletin board like my Creative Writing BINGO to spark ideas and eliminate writer's block.  Or maybe you have a few students who are struggling with vocabulary or reading comprehension... Using an interactive bulletin board to reinforce the content is a great way to help students strengthen those skills! 

Do you have some students who breeze through the lesson and need a bit of a challenge? Use an interactive bulletin board to encourage that challenge! Instead of sitting there, waiting for others to be done, they can further strengthen their skills by participating in an extra activity that is purposeful.  This prevents students from being bored or, even worse, not having anything to do! Seriously, it is a GAME CHANGER! 

I've designed this FREE interactive bulletin board to encourage independent reading and strengthen reading fluency skills.  Give each student one of the bookshelf pages and each time they finish a book, they can color it in for a bonus point on a homework assignment or quiz! If you aren't a huge fan of bonus points, you can explain that the bookshelves serve as book recommendations for their peers.  Check out the other students' books to see what you'd like to read next! Download the free resource here.

Okay, THIS is where the transformation comes in!  Can you imagine an entire class being productive because there are absolutely no excuses not to be? #dreamcometrue Seriously, though! With interactive bulletin boards, students will always have an activity to complete and your entire classroom becomes purposeful. This phrase will forever be eliminated from your classroom: "I have nothing to do *plays on phone*" ;)

One of my favorite ways to incorporate interactive bulletin boards is to encourage kindness and growth mindset.  When I designed bulletin boards for Extreme Makeover Classroom Edition (2017), I created this motivational bulletin board to create a classroom atmosphere that is warm, open, and inviting to all.  Students can take a Polaroid card with an inspirational quote, but they have to replace it with their own quote!  By the end of the school year, all of the cards will be quotes from students.  What better way to build relationships?  

Here are some more fabulous interactive bulletin board ideas for your classroom:
Growth Mindset Bulletin Board Display by Presto Plans
Growth Mindset Collaborative Quilt by The Daring English Teacher
Shakespeare Word Wall and Posters by Room 213

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