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Spotlight on Figurative Language Similes
Ages: 8-14   Grades: 3-9

Your students will learn to identify, understand, and compose the most frequently used type of simile—descriptive, like a pro.  Reading comprehension, peer conversation, and test results are bound to improve too.


  • Identify, interpret, and compose descriptive similes
  • Know the difference between similes and metaphors
  • Convey thoughts vividly and clearly
  • Use similes to describe abstract concepts, ideas, and feelings
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Students with language disorders may think learning about similes is as tough as nails until you show them Spotlight on Figurative Language Similes.

That's because the activities begin at a very concrete level designed to engage students with language disorders.  As and Like similes in their most basic forms (hungry as a lion, cry like a baby, etc.) are introduced first.  Once those forms have been fully learned, activities progress to similes that are more descriptive and extended (hungry as a lion who hasn't tasted meat in a week).

Your students learn to flex their creativity and understand how they can use similes to not only add flair to their reading and writing, but inject a healthy dose of their own humor as well.

The book winds up with some contextual practice, exploring the little-taught than simile form, and some very awful simile jokes that your students will probably love far more than you'd like.

This Spotlight book follows the successful format of others in the series:

  • lessons are in a general developmental progression
  • step-by-step activities build success and motivation
  • lessons use a wide variety of curricular content and daily life experiences
  • grammar is uncomplicated
  • lessons include current, age-appropriate topics
  • progress is measure with a pretest/posttest

You may purchase Spotlight on Figurative Language Similes individually or as part of the Spotlight on Figurative Language 6-book set.  The 6-book set consists of:

Spotlight on Figurative Language Colorful Language

Spotlight on Figurative Language Idioms

Spotlight on Figurative Language Indirect Language

Spotlight on Figurative Language Metaphors

Spotlight on Figurative Language Multiple Meanings

Spotlight on Figurative Language Similes

Copyright © 2012

40 pages, pretest/posttest

The research base for specific forms of figurative language comprehension and usage is sparse, but "metaphor" and "metaphoric language" have been explored to some depth.  The types of figurative language presented in these books can be classified under the general umbrella of metaphor, and the evidence under that label is relevant to the series.

  • Reynolds and Ortony (1980) investigated the comprehension of similes and metaphors by second- through sixth-grade typical children.  They found evidence of an ability to understand figurative language by children at all grade levels when adequate contextual supports were provided (Seidenberg & Bernstein, 1986).
  • Many learning-disabled children appear to have the requisite abilities and strategies for metaphoric comprehension in their cognitive repertoires but fail to spontaneously and appropriately access and apply them when they should . . . learning-disabled children often fail to spontaneously identify the need to use appropriate, cognitive processing strategies that are well within their cognitive competence (Seidenberg & Bernstein, 1986).
  • Metaphoric competence reflects an individual's cognitive level, abstract reasoning ability, and linguistic competence.  The likelihood of [identifying] nonliteral responses [in figurative contexts] depends primarily on these competencies but is also influenced by an individual's familiarity with the specific figurative forms being studied (Lee & Kamhi, 1990).
  • The ability to understand the motives and intentions of others is essential.  Assisting children with ASDs to decode figurative language may improve their social skills in relating to others (Mackay & Shaw, 2004).
  • Understanding a speaker's communicative intention is a central goal of communication and involves going beyond the literal meaning of an utterance.  Children who do not understand these intentions have major communicative difficulties.  Often, they are rejected by their peers, further reducing opportunities for interaction.  Perhaps they struggle on with their frustration and confusion unnoticed, as the people around them continue to use figurative language.  Our closer attention to the specifics of their difficulties should help them when they try to work out the meanings and intentions in the figurative language of their communicative partners (Mackay & Shaw, 2004).

Spotlight on Figurative Language Similes incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


Lee, R.F., & Kamhi, A.G. (1990). Metaphoric competence in children with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(8), 476-482.

Mackay, G., & Shaw, A. (2004). A comparative study of figurative language in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Child Language Teaching & Therapy, 20(1), 13-32. doi: 10.1191/0265659004ct261oa

Reynolds, R.E., & Ortony, A. (1980). Some issues in the measurement of children's comprehension of metaphorical language. Child Development, 51, 1110-1119.

Seidenberg, P.L., & Bernstein, D.K. (1986). The comprehension of similes and metaphors by learning disabled and nonlearning-disabled children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 17, 219-229.


Linda Bowers, Paul F. Johnson


Linda Bowers has been a speech-language pathologist since 1973 and co-owner, co-founder, and researcher for LinguiSystems since 1977.  She loves to cook, travel, and be with friends and family.  She is the proud mother and grandmother of a wonderful daughter and two wickedly funny grandsons.

Paul F. Johnson has developed products and software for LinguiSystems since 1990.  He is the author or co-author of many LinguiSystems products, including titles in the Spotlight, 50 Quick-Play, and No-Glamour series.  He has particular interests in developing critical thinking, social, and communication skills in children and adults, and feels that solid written and verbal communication skills are not only essential to social and career success, but lead to more fulfilling lives and relationships.

He lives in rural Illinois with his amazing wife and their three ridiculous children.  In his spare time, Paul reads a lot, plays the guitar, and is an avid gardener and cook.


Similes are as tough as nails to understand, but let's give it a whirl.  Similes are sentences that compare one thing to another.  They require one to take a word, imagine how to describe that word without using a definition, and put it in one of three formulas for comparison:

  1. noun + verb + as + descriptor + noun
    Mama Leoni's arms were as limp as noodles.
  2. noun + verb + like + noun
    Hoover ate his salad like a hungry vacuum cleaner.
  3. noun + verb + descriptor + than + noun
    Thor's voice was louder than thunder.

Origin and Type
In Latin, simile is the word for like.  There are three types of similes—descriptive, illustrative, and illuminative.

  1. Descriptive similes are the ones you ordinarily read and use. These are the types of similes most often found in this book.
    My father grumbles like a bear in the morning.
  2. In illustrative similes, you use a concrete object to help describe an abstract one.
    Friendship is like good coffee—rich and warm and strong.
  3. An illuminative simile is one that helps you comprehend the deep meaning of an object by using suggestive association.
    There was a secret meanness that clung to him like a smell.

Spotlight on Figurative Language Similes approaches the descriptive type of similes—the ones your students are most likely to encounter in reading and conversation.  The book begins at a concrete level that is most appropriate for engaging students with language disorders.

As and like similes in their most basic forms (e.g., hungry as a lion, cry like a baby) are introduced first.  Once your students fully understand these forms, you can progress to activities that approach more descriptive and extended similes (e.g., hungry as a lion who hasn't tasted meat in a week).  These activities will allow your students to flex their creativity and begin to understand how they can use similes to not only add flair to their reading and writing, but also inject a healthy dose of their own humor.

The book winds up with some contextual practice, exploring the little-taught than simile form and some very awful simile jokes your students will probably love far more than you'd like.

Here are some other ways to work with similes:

  • Encourage your students to bring literature they're reading in class into therapy.  Then have them identify similes in the books.
  • Explore popular song titles and lyrics for similes to share with your students.  There are several homemade YouTube clips that feature lyrics and song titles employing various forms of figurative language, including similes.
  • Put your students on "Simile Watch," and have them note times they hear others use similes in conversation or in the media.

Our hope is that once your students fully understand descriptive similes, they'll enjoy learning and using them so much they'll be ready to advance to the next two simile levels.  After all, learning is like the oceandeep, infinite, and constantly changing.

Linda & Paul