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Methods of Teaching Hyperbole

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Designing fun and creative lessons can sometimes be a challenge. This lesson describes several strategies to use in the classroom when teaching hyperbole.

Hyperbole

By now, you've probably realized that teaching reading and writing is no easy task. Each, besides being interrelated with many other abilities, is a highly complex set of skills that builds and develops through time.

When looking at your yearly plan, you will likely have a figurative language unit, either alone or as a part of poetry or other reading material. Figurative language itself can be an overwhelming topic for students, as there are so many different types and uses. One such term you will have to teach is hyperbole, which is an extreme exaggeration. Some examples include:

  • It was so cold I saw polar bears wearing jackets.
  • I am so hungry I could eat a horse.

The rest of this lesson will delve into strategies to teach hyperbole to students.

Introducing Hyperbole

When starting any new concept with your students, you must first design a means of introducing it. Of course, you shouldn't go right into hyperbole until you clarify that figurative language contains meaning that is different from the literal interpretation. Students should understand that figurative language is not meant to be taken word for word.

Once that is clear, devise a way to introduce hyperbole. Try to relate it to how students talk, especially in the instance of sarcasm. Listen for examples of hyperbole in your students' speech. For instance, if you hear a student say, 'I have a ton of homework,' repeat that statement to the class. Then ask some obvious questions.

  • Is it really a ton?
  • Is it too heavy for you to carry in your backpack?
  • Does it really weigh 2,000 pounds?

Students should see how ridiculous these questions are, so your next question should be why they used that particular phrase. Why say there is a ton of homework if it doesn't really weigh a ton? Some of your students should realize right away that the phrase aims to emphasize the amount of homework, not that the homework really weighs a ton. Relate this idea to hyperbole. The phrase makes an exaggeration in order to prove a point, which is what the use of hyperbole aims to accomplish.

Activities

Once your students understand that basic principle, move on to working with examples of hyperbole in different activities. Your students could try to identify more examples that they actually use. They could even listen to other students or family speak, and record the hyperbolic phrases.

Eventually, have your students work with hyperbole in literature. One perfect resource is the poetry by Shel Silverstein. His works are full of figurative language, especially examples of hyperbole. Students can search his poems for examples, or you can assign certain poems for students to analyze. For instance, one poem titled ''Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout'' details the tragic consequences of a girl who refused to take out the garbage. Here are some lines from the end of the poem.

'But then, of course, it was too lateā€¦

The garbage reached across the state,

From New York to the Golden Gate.'

This is a light-hearted, funny example of hyperbole and should be easy for students to identify. Students could also determine why Silverstein included this use of hyperbole, which would be to make a point of cleaning up after oneself. For any instance of hyperbole, be sure to stress how each affects the main idea or message of the poem as a whole.

At this point, you will want to expand to examples beyond poetry. For instance, one story about Paul Bunyan contains this hyperbole:

'Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue.'

Students should be able to identify this example and explain the effect of using it. Working with both prose and poetry will ensure your students can find hyperbole in any type of writing.

Once you feel your students have a firm grasp of identifying and explaining the use of hyperbole in literature, move on to using hyperbole in writing. You could have each student come up with an example of hyperbole, and create a list of all of the examples for the class. Then each student must choose at least ten from the list to include in either a poem or a short story.

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