Making Comparisons: A Little Glimpse at Discovering Similes

This week I’ve been checking and monitoring my students’ work and making plans. I’ve been delving into some fun lessons from, The Big Book of Details by Roz Linder for inspiration and using them as exercises to spur revision techniques for mid-workshop lessons while we build our stamina. You can read a full review of the book here from Dana.

As I was perusing the book last weekend, one lesson stood out and I thought it would not only be an interesting way to draw details out of my students but also an interesting look into their thinking. The lesson I chose was, “Just Like That.” Students make comparisons using everyday objects and think about connections they may have that relate to them personally. I decided to give it a try and see what my students and I would discover.

My list of objects included:

  • a broken pencil
  • empty cup
  • single dot sticker
  • glue stick
  • highlighter
  • can opener
  • fancy cut scissors
  • empty pencil box
  • a small yellow pail
  • blank composition book

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I put the objects out on the counter and explained we were going to do an exercise. I wanted them to look at the objects and choose one they felt had similarities to themselves. My class looked at me with questioning eyes and peaked interest.

“So, like this empty notebook. It’s never been used. It’s blank and ready to be filled but currently very empty. Do any of you relate to those feelings? Do you see possibility? What do you see?”

A few light bulbs went on.

“Or, take this broken pencil. It can’t be used. It’s useless, well except for this bit of eraser on the end. It just needs someone to sharpen it to carry out its real purpose. Do any of you feel a connection to a broken pencil? Do you see possibility? What do you see?”

A few more inaudible “dings” filled the space.

I gave them a moment of silent time to think, choose, and grab a sticky note. Their task was to, without talking to anyone else, pick the object and jot a short list, phrase or sentence that would describe both the object and themselves. Busy with ideas, students got to work and when finished, posted their sticky note on the corresponding squares I had quickly created on chart paper before our writing block began.

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I found it interesting that so many students chose similar items. The most popular being the glue stick.

When finished, I went through and read the notes and jots. We talked about the meaning behind some of them and how we could see the connections that students had made. It was a nice discussion and brought about several ideas.

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We took the learning to our notebooks to see if there were areas we could make comparisons within our previous writing. Students busily searched their writing. One shared that her dog was “breathing fast” after being stung by a bee and she decided to change it to “breathing fast like he had just run a marathon.” Another had changed, “the car door smacked,” to “the car door smacked like a crack of lightening.” As students began to share I asked, “Does anyone notice what these details are sounding like? Many of these have the word like between the two compared items. What do you think?”

One hand waving uncontrollably, “SIMILES! I learned about those in second grade.”

“Yes, they are similes and they are also a great way to add a detail helping our reader feel like they are in the moment.”

As we move forward, with so many things to learn, it is nice to step back and allow students to think, process, and make discoveries. I am quite certain that very few of them ever thought about how they were like a glue stick, but that little bit of thinking created a conversation that set things in motion. It carried us through the remaining 25 minutes of our block that we are struggling to use to fill pages in our notebooks. It also brought us a bit closer as a community and allowed some insight into how my students see themselves. All worthwhile.