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

Upper elementary and junior high students get their message across with colorful hyperboles, malapropisms, oxymorons, and other figurative language forms. 


  • Recognize, understand, and appropriately use figurative language
  • Understand what is funny and what isn't
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Figurative language is used everywhere and students with language disorders often need specific instruction to comprehend and use it.  This book of lessons helps students understand and use numerous types of word play to hold the attention of their listeners.  The book is organized into nine sections:

  • Hyperbole—exaggeration: I waited in line for a century.
  • Pleonasms—redundancies: We wept tears of joy.
  • Malapropisms—words used incorrectly: My new coat has great installation.
  • Tom Swifties—puns linked with adverbs to describe how the pun was delivered: "Fire!" yelled Tom alarmingly.
  • Spoonerisms—initial letter reversals: Stop chipping the flannels!
  • Portmanteau—new words made from combining two words: camera and recorder—camcorder
  • Oxymorons—two words of opposite meaning combined: old news
  • Onomatopoeia—words that sound like their meaning: swoosh
  • Humor—jokes, riddles, slapstick, etc.

The lessons provide in-depth training in the successful Spotlight series format:

  • a general developmental progression
  • step-by-step advancement to build success and motivation
  • uncomplicated grammar
  • clear explanations with examples
  • a wide variety of curricular content as well as daily life experiences
  • a pretest/posttest

You may purchase Spotlight on Figurative Language Colorful Language 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

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 Colorful Language 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.


No, we're not talking about teaching swear words or innuendo, here!  We're talking about how colorful our language can be when using hyperbole, pleonasms, malapropisms, and more.

Adolescents are the kings and queens of drama.  Everything in their world is about them and they like to tell you so.  This book gives teens more ways to be dramatic in their language than you can shake a stick at!  It also teaches them figurative language they can use, or at least understand, for the rest of their lives.

Norm Crosby, a comedian born in 1927, gained fame and fortune as the King of Malaprop.  His "spiel" was delivered with speed and such a smooth "slip of tongue" that people had to listen carefully to catch his mistakes.  He was pure genius!  It's this kind of language mistake that catches people off guard and makes them laugh.

Teens want to be funny.  They do silly things to get attention.  Some kids even strive to be the "class clown."  Why not teach them silly ways to say things that get positive attention too?  At the very least, they should learn to recognize plays on words and other figurative language so they're "in on the joke" and don't appear "out of it."

This book is divided into nine sections:

  1. Hyperbole (exaggeration) I'm so hungry, I could eat a cow.
  2. Pleonasms (redundancies) We wept tears of joy.  What else would you weep but tears?
  3. Malapropisms (words used incorrectly) My new coat has great installation.
  4. Tom Swifties (puns linked with adverbs to describe how the pun was delivered) "We must hurry," said Tom swiftly.
  5. Spoonerisms (initial letter reversals) Stop chipping the flannels!
  6. Portmanteaus (new words made from combining two words) breath + analyzer = breathalyzer
  7. Oxymora (two words of opposite meaning combined) I broke out in a cold sweat.
  8. Onomatopoeia (words that sound like their meaning) meow
  9. Humor (jokes, riddles, farce, slapstick, etc.)

The chapters are presented in rough developmental order so teaching from the beginning to end is logical.  Don't hesitate to skip around, though, should you find your students more adept or interested in content from a later chapter.


Guidelines for Using This Book
So much of understanding and using figurative language has to do with understanding what is funny and what isn't.  Childhood hunger is not funny.  Saying you're so hungry you could eat road kill is amusing (if not graphic)!  It tells the listener how hungry you really are and that you WILL eat road kill if push comes to shove . . . and isn't that a McDonalds over there?  While we hate to beat a dead horse or take the "fun" out of "funny," we DO need to contrast what is funny and what isn't for our language-impaired teens.  They need direct instruction, so take the opportunity to teach by comparing and contrasting.

Start by teaching the simplest of humor . . . knock-knock jokes and riddles.  Choose jokes and riddles that are very concrete.

  • What did the porcupine say to the cactus?  Are you my mommy?
  • Knock, knock.  Who's there?  Dwain.  Dwain, who?  Quick, dwain the tub.  I'm dwowning.
  • My teacher's so old she was raised by dinosaurs!

Advance to less obvious humor as your students start to groan at the above.

  • If two's company and three's a crowd, what's four and five? (nine)
  • What happens when you throw a green stone in the Red Sea? (It gets wet.)

There are oodles of resources for jokes, riddles, and other humor on the internet.  Assign homework that requires discovery of some of these sites.  Your students will look forward to doing their assignments because they'll have fun while learning.

For the most part, students are not encouraged to use humor in school.  Provide the exception.  Require students to tell at least one joke a day, perhaps as an "entrance fee" to your class.  This will build their skills AND confidence.

Linda & Paul


Tom Swifties adverbial puns. (2010). Santa Monica, CA: Demand Media, Inc. Retrieved from