Understanding Figurative Language and Idiomatic Expressions

Understanding Figurative Language
and Idiomatic Expressions
• Examine the language structures that may be
difficult to interpret.
Common Core State Standards:
• College and Career Readiness Anchor
Standards for Reading K-12:
• Craft and Structure: Standard 4. Interpret
words and phrases as they are used in a text,
including determining technical, connotative,
and figurative meanings, and analyze how
specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
College and Career Readiness Anchor
Standards for Language K-12:
Knowledge of Language
3. Apply knowledge of language to understand
how language functions in different contexts, to
make effective choices for meaning or style, and
to comprehend more fully when reading or
College and Career Readiness Anchor
Standards for Language K-12:
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use
5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative
language, word relationships, and nuances in
word meanings.
CCSS note on range and content of student
language use:
To build a foundation for college and career
readiness in language, students must … come to
appreciate that words have nonliteral meanings,
shadings of meaning, and relationships to other
words; and expand their vocabulary in the course
of studying content.
Why focus on migrant students?
• Migrant students often have had different
experiences that may cause them to
understand and interpret text differently from
students with other background experiences.
• 57% of migrant students in Washington state
considered English Language Learners who
may not have the language background to
understand nuances in English
Reading Skills
• Readers who comprehend well need to
simultaneously interpret:
Integration with
knowledge of self
and the world
“Digging for Meaning: Teaching Text Comprehension” by Louisa
Motes and Nancy Hennessy
Why is academic text difficult?
Written academic language has:
More prepositions or meaning units in a sentence
Longer sentences with embedded clauses
Unusual or low-frequency vocabulary
Vocabulary specific to a topic domain
Conventional usage and grammar
Paragraph structure
Tighter logic and less redundancy
Fewer conversational clues
“Digging for Meaning: Teaching Text Comprehension” by Louisa
Motes and Nancy Hennessy
Words are metaphorical
• Words often don’t mean exactly what they say.
• A phrase may mean something not at all like its individual
“bite the
“do an about
• These expressions can be misinterpreted easily by migrant
students, Ells, literal thinkers, or people without the
background knowledge to understand the metaphorical
Several types of figurative language:
Colloquial Expressions
"Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh
what a relief it is."
An onomatopoeia poem by Lee
Emmett of Australia :
water plops into pond
splish-splash downhill
warbling magpies in tree
trilling, melodic thrill
whoosh, passing breeze
flags flutter and flap
frog croaks, bird whistles
babbling bubbles from tap
by Todd Rundgren
"Onomatopoeia every time I see ya
My senses tell me hubba
And I just can't disagree.
I get a feeling in my heart that I can't describe. . .
It's sort of whack, whir, wheeze, whine
Sputter, splat, squirt, scrape
Clink, clank, clunk, clatter
Crash, bang, beep, buzz
Ring, rip, roar, retch
Twang, toot, tinkle, thud
Pop, plop, plunk, pow
Snort, snuck, sniff, smack
Screech, splash, squish, squeak
Jingle, rattle, squeal, boing
Honk, hoot, hack, belch."
Figurative Language: Personification
Figurative Language: Similes
• The snow is like a blanket.
• The bread is as hard as nails.
• The river is as dry as a bone.
• The football player is bigger than
a refrigerator.
• She was so surprised that her
eyes were as big as saucers.
Figurative Language: Metaphors
– He was drowning in a sea of grief.
– She is fishing in troubled waters.
– Her spirit is an unsinkable ship.
– The town was covered by a blanket of snow.
– Her heart froze when she heard the creaking
– Time flies.
Figurative Language: Hyperboles
Hyperbole in Ads
Can You Identify the Company?
Reach out and touch someone.
The happiest place on earth.
It's so easy, a caveman can do it.
It gives you wings!
Cover the earth.
It’s everywhere you want to be.
How good is our steak? Last week a
man who was choking on a piece
refused the Heimlich maneuver.
- Disneyland
- Geico
- Redbull
- Sherwin Williams
- Visa
• - 321 East
Figurative Language: Puns
• Why are fish so smart?
• What do you get from a pampered
• How do turtles talk to each other? •
• Why did the spider go to the
• What do baseball players eat on? •
• Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies… •
• Headline: Energizer Bunny arrested, •
• He bought a donkey because …
Because they live in schools
Spoiled milk
On shell phones!
To check his web site
Home plates!
like a banana.
charged with battery.
he thought he might get a
kick out of it.
Figurative Language:
Colloquial Expressions:
• are used in casual speech
– I could care less.
– That dress just isn’t you.
– She’s really over the hill now.
– Let’s take a selfie.
– Hey, bro, back off! Get outta my grill!
– My brother just got plutoed from his job.
– She’s a dedicated locavore.
– She is well-known for her truthiness.
Figurative Language: Idioms
• Idioms: figurative expressions that
aren’t easily translated and can’t be
taken literally
This excused absence note looks fishy.
This class is a piece of cake.
I can’t believe the hero of the story kicked the bucket!
It’s raining cats and dogs.
My dogs are really barking today!
I heard it through the grapevine.
My eyes were bigger than my stomach.
Cognitive Content Dictionary:
One way to teach idioms
Introduce the expression and write it on a CCD chart
Poll the class. Who has heard it before? Who hasn’t?
Have teams predict the meaning of the idiom
Repeat the expression several times
Give a synonym and signal motion to help students
remember it
– Use the idiom as a transition signal throughout the day
– Ensure that the expression is encountered in context,
used, and reinforced during the class
Cognitive Content Dictionary – Day 2
• Review the idiom, synonym, and signal
• Give the dictionary definition and a studentexplanation
• Teams produce a sentence or example
showing another way to use the expression,
thus showing their understanding of the
• Reinforce the meaning by using the expression
whenever it is appropriate
Several types of figurative language:
Colloquial Expressions
Teaching Tips:
• Recognize figurative language in a text and
explain it directly.
• Give more examples of how the expression is
• Ask students to paraphrase the idea in their own
• Ask students to use the expression themselves.
• Create a visual/nonverbal representation of the
“Digging for Meaning: Teaching Text Comprehension” by Louisa
Motes and Nancy Hennessy
You Try It!
Group yourselves by grade level.
Look at the sample lesson you are given.
What do you like about it?
What would you do differently?
Make a list of the materials you already use
that include figurative language.
• How you could teach figurative language using
those materials?

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