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Figurative Language Card Games
Ages: 10-Adult   Grades: 5-Adult         

Fun, motivating card games help students recognize and interpret idioms, indirect language, similes, and metaphors.  Four decks of cards give a huge range of practice possibilities. 


  • Use context clues to interpret implied meaning and figurative language forms
  • Understand and use idioms, indirect language, similes, and metaphors
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Figurative Language Card Games is made up of four decks of playing cards.  Each deck contains 52 suited cards for a total of 208 figurative language phrases.  Each card presents a realistic, short, narrative passage that includes a figurative language phrase.  Students use context clues within the passage to help them answer a multiple-choice question that addresses the meaning of the targeted phrase.  A decoder is included if students want to self-check their answers.  Directions for five game variations are also included, but the game possibilities are endless.   


Deck 1: Idioms 1 
You need to tell your teacher something.  She stops what she's doing and says, "Okay.  I'm all ears."   What does "I'm all ears" mean?

a. I have big ears.

b. I'm listening to you.

c. I can't hear you.


Deck 2: Idioms 2
Your friend is angry with you.  When you try to talk to her, she gives you the cold shoulder.  What does "gives you the cold shoulder" mean?

a. compliments you

b. laughs at you

c. ignores you


 Deck 3: Indirect Language
You're getting ready for school when your dad knocks on your door.  He asks, "Do you know what time it is?"   What does your dad mean?

a. You're late.

b. You have lots of time.

c. Is your watch working?


 Deck 4: Similes and Metaphors
You're at the mall with your mom.  You ask if you can go to the game store and meet her in an hour.  She says, "That sounds like a plan."   What does "sounds like a plan" mean?

a. sounds noisy

b. sounds impossible

c. sounds like a good idea


Copyright © 2009

4 card decks (52 cards per deck), instructions, data collection sheet, shielded decoder, vinyl Velcro® bag
  • In a survey of educators and speech-language pathologists, respondents agreed that a good understanding of figurative language can benefit students both academically and socially by increasing effective communication and reading comprehension (Moshein, 2006).
  • Figurative language instruction is a necessary component of the reading comprehension curriculum for at-risk students, who have particular difficulty understanding idioms and figurative expressions (Palmer & Brooks, 2004).
  • The inability to interpret figurative language leads to a breakdown in text comprehension, which in turn, can frustrate readers and discourage them from continuing reading tasks, and can cause delays in later language development (Palmer & Brooks, 2004).
  • Strategies should be employed to develop a child's skills at interpreting figurative language as this forms a substantial part of understanding language (Taylor-Goh, 2005).

Figurative Language Card Games incorporates the above principles and are also based on expert professional practice.


Moshein, J. (2006). Figurative language: A different model of communication. Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists, 16, 6.

Palmer, B.C., & Brooks, M.A. (2004). Reading until the cows come home: Figurative language and reading comprehension. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47, 370-379.

Taylor-Goh, S. (2005). Royal college of speech & language therapists: Clinical guidelines. United Kingdom: Speechmark.


Ellen Muench, Sharlet Lee Jensen


Ellen Muench, M.S., CCC-SLP, graduated with her masters in Communication Disorders and Sciences from California State University of Northridge.  She spent three years as a special education teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, working with children with severe language impairments.  Ellen then worked in a private clinic for a year providing collaborative services for the birth-to-three population.  Ellen currently works in a school district in the state of Washington and runs a small, private practice where she has gained extensive experience working with children with autism and Asperger's syndrome.


Sharlet Lee Jensen, M.S., CCC-SLP, graduated with her masters in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Washington in Seattle.  She worked for four years in early intervention, gaining extensive experience working with families of children with autism spectrum disorders, apraxia, hearing impairments, general language delays, and articulation/phonological delays.  Sharlet then spent a year in an elementary school where she gained additional experience working with children with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome, word-finding impairments, and early literacy delays.  She believes strongly in providing a structured, step-by-step approach to achieving a child's communication goals while capitalizing on a child's personal interests and strengths.  Outside of work, Sharlet enjoys riding horses, hiking, and playing with the animals on her small farm in Arlington.


Figurative language is an important part of student communication and is embedded throughout general conversations, classroom discussions, and literature.  A study by Kerbel and Grunwell (1997) revealed that teachers use an average of 1.73 idioms per minute.  This puts students who have language impairments at a distinct disadvantage in the classroom, as they find it difficult to use context to understand implied meanings (Rinaldi, 2000).  When students cannot recognize figurative expressions, when they cannot comprehend intended meaning from context, and when they don't ask for clarification, they miss a significant portion of the meaningful dialogue that occurs in their daily lives.  This can mean the difference between academic success and failure.  

Students with language impairments need specific instruction to understand and use figurative language (Taylor-Goh, 2005).  Figurative Language Card Games provides a fun, motivating format to help these students understand others and communicate more effectively by teaching them to recognize and interpret implied meanings for the following types of figurative language:

  • Idioms—expressions that mean something other than the literal meanings of their individual words.  Students who do not understand idioms often misinterpret the speaker's meaning and may respond in a manner which is off-topic or inappropriate.
  • Indirect Language—a statement or a question that implies a different meaning.  Students who have difficulty interpreting indirect language often think someone is asking their opinion or making a general statement.
  • Similes—direct comparisons of two unlike things that are often introduced by the words like or as.
  • Metaphors—implied comparisons of two unlike things that do not use like or as.  

Figurative Language Card Games is made up of four decks of playing cards—two decks of idioms, one deck of indirect language phrases, and one deck of similes and metaphors.  Each deck contains 52 suited cards.  Each card holds a short, narrative passage which includes a figurative language phrase.  Students use context clues within a passage to help them answer a multiple-choice question that addresses the meaning of the targeted phrase.  Students will enjoy self-checking their answers by using the decoder.  

The cards can easily be adapted to meet the individual needs of each student.  Use the decks individually, or select cards from different decks to create a customized card deck that includes all of the figurative language forms.  In addition to playing the games, you may also use the cards for drills and practice activities with your students.  Track your students' progress by using the Data Collection Sheet.  

We hope you and your students enjoy the time you spend together playing these games.  Have fun!  

Ellen and Sharlet  


Kerbel, D., & Grunwell P. (1997). Idioms in the classroom: An investigation of language unit and mainstream teachers' use of idioms. Child Language
Teaching and Therapy, 13
(2), 113-123.

Rinaldi, W. (2000). Pragmatic comprehension in secondary school-aged students with specific developmental language disorder. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 35, 1-29.

Taylor-Goh, S. (2005). Royal college of speech & language therapists: Clinical guidelines. United Kingdom: Speechmark.