LinguiSystems home
Spotlight on Figurative Language Indirect Language
Ages: 8-14   Grades: 3-9

End the confusion teens with language impairments often have with unique and idiomatic expressions.  These lessons teach them to "get it" and ultimately use these expressions with their peers.


  • Recognize and correctly interpret indirect communication
  • Add figurative language to expressive language repertoire
  • Communicate clearly and efficiently
Add to Cart
** This is a Cloud E-Book that is accessible from any device with Internet access. .

Spotlight on Figurative Language Indirect Language helps students with language disorders understand unspoken meaning, its purposes in communication, and how to use it successfully.  The book is organized into five sections:

  • Connotations—recognize and use connotative words appropriately
  • Context Clues—determine meaning from body posture, facial expressions, and gestures
  • Implications—understand how combinations of words and their contexts have differing implications
  • Indirect Language—differentiate polite from impolite remarks, use indirect language to politely inform
  • Sarcasm and Irony—recognize sarcasm and irony and how they differ; recognize the inappropriate use of sarcasm

The successful Spotlight series formula gives students these advantages:   

  • in-depth training
  • step-by-step progression to build success and motivation
  • a wide variety of curricular content as well as daily life experiences
  • uncomplicated grammar
  • clear explanations with examples
  • a pretest/posttest to verify progress

You may purchase Spotlight on Figurative Language Indirect 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, 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 Indirect 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.


For years, researchers in psychology and language have conducted studies around the development of figurative language.  Many of them investigated the comprehension of figurative language in children and adolescents, but few looked at its use or expression, except for a handful during the 1970s through the 1990s.  These studies were conducted in the affective domain; that is, subjects were asked to describe various levels of emotions to see if they included metaphors, similes, and the like.  Results of these studies showed that the deeper the emotion, the more likely the subject was to use figurative language and/or robust vocabulary (Fainsilber & Ortony, 1987; Fussel, 1992; Moss & Fussell, 1995; Gibbs & O'Brien, 1990).

Figurative language changes with societal trends.  Consider these:

     She wasn't all there.

     It was eating away at him.

     He's kind of just blown off everything.

     She freaks out and starts yelling.

     She's on an emotional roller coaster.

Do you notice these expressions are all negative?  Given our economy, world strife, and general malaise regarding who we are as a nation following 9/11, one might wonder if these trends are predictable.  The effect of figurative language on the listener is visceral and the effect on the speaker may be cathartic.

To the language-impaired teen, understanding unique and idiomatic expressions is confusing at best.  The goal of therapy for these students is, ultimately, to make figurative language a part of their expressive repertoire.  If expressing figurative language is too difficult, we can at least teach them to understand it so that they "get it" right along with their peers.

This book is divided into five sections.

1. Indirect Language
People usually use indirect language as a form of politeness or subtlety, but it can also be used to "zing" someone.  Consider these two sentences:

     "I prefer rice over polenta."

     "Polenta is the culinary version of wallpaper paste."

The first sentence is polite but clearly states the person would rather not eat polenta.  The second sentence is a "zinger" clearly criticizing the feel and/or taste of polenta.  Understanding and using indirect language to politely inform.

2. Context Clues
Students are taught from first grade on to look for context clues to help them determine meanings of new words.  This chapter goes beyond reading clues to investigate how we use words to provide context.  Your students will learn about body posture, facial expressions, and gestures.  While this may seem superficial, consider that about 80% of what we understand comes from nonverbal clues!  This raises the bar on the importance of understanding them.

3. Connotations
The meanings of some words carry more emotion than others.  The word home carries with it warm feelings of safety, acceptance, and support to many.  The word plate has little emotional value.  The lessons in this chapter teach students to recognize and use connotative words or words with robust meaning when appropriate.  We don't want students to sound like walking thesauruses, but it spices up the listening load if their vocabulary is rich.

4. Implications
Words imply all kinds of things.  If someone says you're pushy, is she implying you're bossy or that you push people around?  Probably both and that's why she said you're pushy.  This chapter teaches students that the words they use in combination with other words and in certain contexts have different implications.

5. Sarcasm & Irony
Teaching the differences between sarcasm and irony is important because they serve different purposes.  Sarcasm is used to be critical, to put someone down, or to make him feel bad.  Irony happens and is not usually directed at any one person.  This chapter teaches students to recognize the differences.

Have fun with this book and deviate from it whenever you can to enrich your adolescent's language!

Linda & Paul


Fainsilber, L., & Ortony, A. (1987). Metaphorical uses of language in the expression of emotions. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 2, 239-250.

Fussell, S.R. (1992). The use of metaphor in written descriptions of emotional states. (Unpublished manuscript). Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.

Gibbs, R., & O'Brien, J. (1990). Idioms and mental imagery: The metaphorical motivation for idiomatic meaning. Cognition, 36, 35-68.

Moss, M.M., & Fussell, S.R. (March, 1995). Interpersonal communication of emotional information. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association, Savannah, GA.