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

Metaphors are important in language because they add interest and color to what we say and allow for a unique way to learn about objects, ideas, and situations.  Conversation becomes interesting with metaphors too.


  • Understand, use, and craft metaphors
  • Communicate in new ways
  • Use higher level comparisons
  • Develop analogical thinking
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Students with language disorders interpret things concretely.  When their peers use metaphors (My math teacher is a bear!), students with language disorders can misinterpret what they say, feel left out of conversations, or participate inappropriately.

Help them understand and implement metaphors which will foster good peer relationships with this successful Spotlight series format. 

Spotlight on Figurative Language Metaphors includes:

  • step-by-step activities to build success and motivation
  • clear explanations with examples
  • reduced grammatical demands
  • carefully controlled vocabulary
  • a pretest/posttest

This book approaches metaphors in their purist and most basic form (something is something else).  In order to aid students to move past their natural concrete understandings of metaphors, the metaphors are simple and well-defined.

Students learn to interpret non-literal speech, which will influence the outcomes of improved social conversation, reading comprehension, and written language while they have a few laughs along the way!

You may purchase Spotlight on Figurative Language Metaphors 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 Metaphors 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.


We begin using metaphors at the same time we begin to speak.  The most basic metaphors are simply descriptions of states of being (e.g., he is mad, she is hungry), but as with all things related to language, the complexity of the composition of metaphors and our ability to interpret them become more sophisticated as language skills develop.  Understanding the nuances and correct application of metaphors is key to accurate and meaningful communication.  Metaphors play an important role in language because they add interest and color to speech as well as help us better understand what is being said.

Metaphors help us make novel connections between seemingly unrelated things (e.g., her head was a half-filled balloon, the trip was a torture trail).  Our brains—that mushy gray stuff that loves information presented in novel ways—seizes these unique language relationships and allows us to examine objects, ideas, and situations in a different light.  These connections make way for beautiful literature, meaningful conversation, and healthy social interactions.

Many words have evolved to take on a metaphoric meaning as well as their literal connotation.  These evolutions can eventually replace the original meanings as these evolutionary words are more widely used and expected.  Here are a few examples:

  • Color
    • literal: phenomenon of light
    • metaphoric: an added vividness or emotion
  • Warm
    • literal: a higher temperature
    • metaphoric: a friendly characteristic
  • Sick
    • literal: unwell, ill
    • metaphoric: gross, unpleasant (or among extreme sports enthusiasts, sick means excellent or well executed)

Dualities such as these, and the essence of metaphors in all their forms, make the English language increasingly difficult for non-native speakers to learn.  Kids with language disorders also face the same uphill climb when it comes to understanding metaphors.  These individuals are always in danger of misinterpreting conversations or not understanding when others freely use metaphors.  Since students with language disorders naturally interpret things concretely, they don't understand how a teacher can be a "bear" or an easy assignment a "snap."  As a result, they are often left out of conversations or participate inappropriately.  It's important to help these kids learn to understand and implement figurative language in all of its forms in order for them to foster good relationships.

It should be noted that this book generally approaches metaphor in its purist and most basic form (something is something else).  Metaphorical language can comprise personification, aphorisms, similes, idioms, and all sorts of figurative language forms.  For the purposes of aiding students to move past their natural concrete understandings of metaphors, we have decided to keep the concept of metaphor simple and well-defined.  Here are some ways to use the pages in this book as well as some related, supportive class activities:

  • Administer the pretest in the beginning of the book.  It will give you a baseline of performance to compare against the progress your student makes as he works through the activities.
  • Work through the pages in order, as they increase in difficulty.
  • Make sure the student clearly understands what is being asked of him on each page.  After reading the directions, have the student restate them in his own words.
  • Work with some of the activities in a group, especially those that ask students to use their imaginations to create metaphors.  Groups are great environments for brainstorming.
  • Have students write short poems.  This is a creative outlet that allows for a lot of artistic license with metaphors.  Predetermine the subject of these poems to help students get started.
  • Print pictures of various items and have students try to connect two of them by creating metaphors.
  • Have students figure out the literal meaning of a common metaphor and craft a short, one-paragraph story based on the literal meaning.

The goals of Spotlight on Figurative Language Metaphors are to help students learn to craft their own metaphors, use metaphors properly, and gain basic understanding of the meaning of many commonly-used phrases.  These skills will benefit kids with language disorders by aiding them in interpreting non-literal speech, which will influence the outcomes of improved social conversation, reading comprehension, and written language.  And even though it's not notable for your students' IEP, having a few laughs along the way is a nice side effect!

Linda & Paul