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Teaching Figurative Language with Mentor Poems

I was conferring with one of my students in Writing Workshop yesterday and quickly found, as I researched, my compliment (meaningful line breaks while drafting) and teaching point (using figurative language, specifically similes). I started to demonstrate what similes were by reviewing the concept of comparing two things with the words like or as. However, the student was having trouble with this in her poem. So, I broke out my mentor poems binder, which contains poems, categorized by things like “imagery,” “line breaks,” “concrete poems,” “repetition,” etc. However, to my surprise, I never created a section for figurative language. ARGH!

I thought fast, knowing I had a bunch of other writers to confer with, and flipped through the imagery section of the binder and located “The Base Stealer” by Robert Francis. Some of the similes it contains are:

  • pulled both ways taut like a tightrope walker
  • now bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball or a kid skipping rope
  • hovers like an ecstatic bird
  • Not bad, but not exactly the mentor poem I would’ve selected for this student since she knows about baseball, but doesn’t have a strong connection to the sport. That being said, she was able to craft two similes for the wondering poem she was writing. However, due to her low connection with the poem (Dare I say disconnection with the poem!??!), I fear that this isn’t a strategy she’ll try the next time she writes another poem since the text didn’t have that much meaning or value to her.

    So now I’m pouring through my poetry files, trying to find a selection of poems I can use when I can confer, to help me show kids how other poets use similes, metaphors, idioms, etc… Though if YOU have any tried and true poems you use with your elementary school students when teaching figurative language, then please leave a comment with the poet’s name and the name of the poem. THANKS.

    Stacey Shubitz View All

    I am a literacy consultant who focuses on writing workshop. I've been working with K-6 teachers and students since 2009. Prior to that, I was a fourth and fifth-grade teacher in New York City and Rhode Island.

    I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

    I live in Central Pennsylvania with my husband and children. In my free time, I enjoy swimming, doing Pilates, cooking, baking, making ice cream, and reading novels.

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