Metaphors and Analogies for Teaching Writing

Writing is an abstract idea for many students in middle school. Particularly, essay writing. In an attempt to make writing more accessible to my students, I have been using metaphors and analogies to help my students understand the elements of writing an essay.

Lindsey Richland, professor at University of Chicago, has written many research articles on the use of analogies in mathematics classroom. She lists six cognitive supports for the use of analogies in the mathematics classroom. These supports include:

  1. The teacher uses a familiar source analog to compare to the target analog being taught
  2. The teacher presents the source analog visually
  3. The teacher keeps the source visible to learners during comparison with the target.
  4. The teacher uses spatial cues to highlight the alignment between corresponding elements of the source and target (e.g., diagramming)
  5. The teacher uses hand or arm gestures that signaled an intended comparison (e.g., pointing back and forth between a scale and an equation)
  6. The teacher uses mental imagery or visualizations

Richland’s work is also relevant across content areas. I have found that using metaphors and analogies with my students helps them to visualize and make connections with the content being taught. For example, while working on revising our summer reading essays, I made the following analogies:

Introductory Paragraphs are like Birthday Invitations – The first paragraph of your essay is extremely important.  You will need to get the reader’s attention, build interest, preview the topic and offer necessary background information, and most importantly state your claim clearly and concisely. Similarly, when you send out a birthday invitation to your friends you need to get your friend’s attention, build interest, preview what is going to happen at the party and include any necessary background information, and most importantly, state where and when the party is is going to happen clearly and concisely.

When teaching the claim, I borrowed an analogy from author,  Katherine Bomer, “Essays, like a music composition,  circle around a central idea, riffing on it with stories, questions, and observations, but ultimately cohering around the CORE IDEA.”

I also talked about writer’s having to navigate their thinking on a page the way Google Maps and Waze helps to navigate us home. Unfortunately, there is no app to help teachers and students navigate through an essay. Thus, writers need to always be explaining or clarifying the relationship they are creating between evidence and ideas. Writers need to be sure and clarify or explain each piece of evidence from the text so that readers don’t get lost, confused, or the wrong idea.

What are the metaphors and analogies that you use to teach writing with your students to help them visualize the task at hand? Share your ideas in the Comments below.



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