Figurative Language Lesson Plan

Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Students often understand the literal meaning for poetry and short stories, but interpreting figurative language is more difficult. This lesson begins the difference between figurative and literal language then goes into specific types of figurative language. Students demonstrate their knowledge by developing original metaphors and similes using a game-like activity.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson students will be able to:

  • Explain the difference between figurative and literal language
  • Identify and categorize examples of figurative language from poetry and prose
  • Create original metaphors and similes


This lesson should take 45-60 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

Key Vocabulary

  • figurative
  • literal
  • idiom
  • metaphor
  • simile
  • hyperbole
  • understatement
  • concrete noun
  • abstract noun

Materials Needed

  • index cards
  • two buckets

Lesson Instructions

Begin by projecting or directing students to the lesson Interpreting Figurative Language in Poetry. Play through 4:55, stopping to discuss each of the terms. Next, do the same with the lesson Interpreting Figurative Language in Fiction but stop at each of the practice examples to call upon students before continuing with the video. Now, give students the following examples to categorize as additional practice. You can present these on cards and have students sort them individually or in pairs, if your class has more kinesthetic learners, or you could use an online quiz program to create a trivia-style game of the activity. Choose your approach based on your students and the available technology.

  • Martha's sense of humor rubs me the wrong way. (idiom)
  • All the world's a stage. (metaphor)
  • Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get. (simile)
  • His backpack must have weighed a ton! (hyperbole)
  • Describing the recent flooding: It rained a tiny bit more than average. (understatement)

After each correctly identified term, have students explain how knowing the type of figurative language helps them interpret the construction. Discuss how using figurative language affects the reader when compared with a purely literal version.

Explain that one of the reasons writers use figurative language is that helps them explain difficult concepts. Lead a whole class discussion in the difference between concrete and abstract nouns and have students create definitions for those terms.

To conclude the lesson, give each student an index card cut into two pieces. Have them write a concrete noun on one piece and an abstract noun on the other. Students will place their concrete nouns in one bucket and abstract nouns in the other. After you mix them up, have students draw a slip of paper from each bucket and create a metaphor. They'll use this metaphor as the basis of 3-4 lines of poetry. You should write one as well to model the type of thinking and writing you want your students to do, because some pairs can be challenging. When the class is finished, you can have them turn those in for you to evaluate, take volunteers to read them aloud, or use a jigsaw approach to share the poems.

Lesson Extension

Students can extend their learning by identifying terms in upcoming poetry and short stories. You can also give them literal sentences and ask them to create figurative versions. This quick writing activity can easily be done as a warm-up for your class, and once students are adept at creating their own figurative language, they'll more readily identify and understand it in the literature they read.

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