Celebrated American poet Maya Angelou makes extensive use of metaphors in her poetry.
Metaphors are used often in literature, appearing in every genre from poetry to prose and from essays to epics. Utilized by poets and novelists to bring their literary imagery to life, metaphors are an important component of reading closely and appreciating literature. This lesson plan can be taught in conjunction with the EDSITEment lesson plan: Recognizing Similes: Fast as a Whip, which will help students recognize both metaphors and similes, and to distinguish the often confused elements from each other. In this lesson students will read excerpts from the work of Langston Hughes, Margaret Atwood, and Naomi Shihab Nye in order to gain a deeper understanding of metaphors.
Many students begin to learn about metaphors well before entering high school. This lesson assumes that students will have a basic understanding of what metaphors are; however it is designed to help students begin to engage with metaphors on a deeper and more abstract level. The lesson will begin with a poem containing metaphors accessible at all levels, and with each poem the lesson will progress in difficulty, so that teachers will find material to suit their classes at all skill levels.
In this lesson, students will
Remind students that metaphors utilize the image of one subject as if it were analogous to another, seemingly unrelated, subject. Note that figures of speech, such as saying someone is "green" to mean that they are new at something, are often metaphors. A key component of this element is that a metaphor conflates rather than compares the two objects. Point out that for example, a new recruit is green, rather than being like a green shoot or branch. More about metaphors, including an in-depth definition of the term, is accessible through the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource Internet Public Library.
Review and bookmark the web page More about metaphors as well as the poems that will be discussed in this lesson. All of the poems discussed in this lesson are available on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Academy of American Poets.
This activity will introduce students to the definition of metaphor and simile while directing students to concrete examples of both tools.
Life is a broken-winged birdWhile the second stanza contains the following line:
Life is a barren fieldYou may want to begin this exercise by leading students through the metaphors contained in this short poem. Ask them to think about the following questions:
Your hand is a warm stone I hold between two words.You may wish to discuss with students the structure of the entire poem before focusing on the lines highlighted above. This poem effectively models the development of language and how metaphor enables us to deal with increasingly abstract concepts. In the opening stanza of Atwood's poem each of her lines introduces the child and the audience to the concrete world: this is your hand, this is your eye. Next, she moves to more abstract notions: Outside the window is the rain, green because it is summer. Thus the concrete objects- the rain, the green (trees, grass)- signify the abstract concept summer.
Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.
Today the headlines clot in my blood.Ask students to complete the PDF worksheet, or the online interactive version, which includes the following questions about the metaphor example from Nye's poem.
Maya Angelou's well known poem Still I Rise speaks to the persistence of the writer despite adversity. She employs similes and metaphors throughout the poem, and in the final stanza she includes these lines:
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
How does Angelou's declaration of herself as 'the dream and the hope of the slave' both echo and contrast with Dr. Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech?
Maya Angelou's poem is available from the American Academy of Poets, while the text of Dr. King's speech is available from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute web site at Stanford University.
1 class periods