Many students forget to use figurative language in their writing even though on most of the rubrics used to evaluate student writing, figurative language is included in the section marked “style.”
What kinds of figurative language are easy to insert?
Alliteration means the repetition of a particular consonant sound as in “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” Students can be intimidated by alliteration because they think they need to use every word beginning with the same sound. Two words beginning with the same consonant sound is usually enough, and those words don’t need to be consecutive. For example,
My little brother, Fred, was nearly frozen with fear.
I dreamed about a dreary day in December.
My mother made mashed potatoes on Monday.
After a student has written a rough draft, and after he has examined his writing for clarity, verbs and sentence openings, I help him introduce alliteration. I find words beginning with consonants that might be easy to modify with an adjective or with a prepositional phrase. Together we think up adjectives that begin with the same letter as the noun, such as a large linden tree or a cherry-flavored chocolate bar. Or, if the writing is fiction, we might change names (John F. Kennedy School becomes John Jefferson School). Or we might add to a name to provide alliteration (Mary becomes Mary Margaret).
Similes are comparisons using like (my cat seems like a tiger) or as. . .as (my cat is as fierce as a tiger). Students come up with similes easily when they are reminded to do so, but many times the similes they choose have nothing to do with the ideas being expressed.
For example, a student might describe his sticky buns “as sticky as a stamp on an envelope.” True, both are sticky, but the buns are a delicious food and the stamp is a piece of paper. Instead, I ask the student to identify another delicious food that is sticky. “My sticky buns are as sticky as peanut butter on my teeth.” Or, “My sticky buns are as sticky as taffy on my braces.” These provide closer analogies and so they work better as similes.
Poor example: He ate as fast as a rollercoaster.
Better example: He ate as fast as a steam shovel.
Even better: He ate as fast as an out-of-control fire.
You might think hyperbole would be easy for a student to use, but it is not. Hyperbole is the extreme exaggeration of an idea to the point of absurdity. “I ate three large pizzas last night” could be hyperbole if eating three large pizzas is clearly impossible for that child, but “I ate 23 large pizzas last night” is clearly hyperbole. “I had five hours of homework last night” might not be hyperbole, but “I have enough homework to last me until I am 70 years old” is clearly hyperbole.
Poor example: My great-grandmother can remember the Great Depression.
Better example: My great-grandmother voted for George Washington.
Usually students don’t exaggerate enough. They might write, “I ate a whole pizza last night,” or “I studied for four hours for that test.” Together we strategize about what is possible but unlikely (not hyperbole) and what is clearly impossible (hyperbole).
We also talk about the tone of the student’s writing. Hyperbole works well in humorous writing but it sometimes changes the mood of a more serious piece. If that is the case, I suggest the student use another form of figurative speech.
More on other figures of speech in the next blog.