Comparison and Transformation (A Lesson Plan)

Overall objective: move from comparing nouns (as done by simile and metaphor) to transforming nouns by use of a well-chosen verb that seems to augment the usual abilities of that noun.

Level 1: The Simile (approximate time: 5 minutes)

Explain definition (relating a noun to another noun through the use of “like” or “as”).

Show examples (both read aloud and shown to the students):

From Elizabeth Bishop’s “Crusoe in England”:

“The turtles lumbered by, high-domed,

hissing like teakettles.”

“volcanoes dead as ash heaps.”

Discussion Activity (objective: initiate critical thinking about the nature of the simile):

Why would a writer choose to use a simile?

Level 2: The Metaphor (approximate time: 10 minutes)

Explain definition (one noun is described as being another noun).

Show examples (both read aloud and shown to the students):

Emily Dickinson:

“Forever – is composed of Nows”

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul – ”

“Fame is a bee.

It has a song—

It has a sting—

Ah, too, it has a wing.”

If it seems appropriate/not too much digression, explain “conceit” (the above selection can be presented as an example).

Discussion Activity (objective: note the pros and cons of both simile and metaphor):

Why write a metaphor instead of a simile?

Why write a simile instead of a metaphor?

Level 3: Noun with surprising (transformative) verb (approximate time: 10 minutes)

Explain (instead of trying to relate one noun to another noun, how about making a noun able to do something another noun normally does: an idiomatic example would be “pigs flying”).

Show examples (both read aloud and shown to the students):

Paul Celan (translated from the German by Michael Hamburger):

From “All Souls”:

“felt the barb

where my pulse dared the counter-beat.”

From “Corona”:

“Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.”

From “Vom Blau”:

“I am the first to drink of the blue that still looks for its eye.”

Discussion Activity (objective: think critically about how these three techniques compare):

Why use a surprising verb instead of a metaphor or simile?

Writing Exercise: (approximately 20 minutes of writing, 15 minutes presenting)

Use the simile, metaphor, or surprising verb (or two of these or all three) in a poem.  (If a student does not feel comfortable writing a full poem at this time, practice writing sentences with these qualities.)  After presenting work, students should feel free to talk about their choices in similes/metaphors/verbs (encourage them to do so by asking about one of them).

Overall desired outcome: whether or not students are already familiar with similes, metaphors, and the concept of using “surprising verbs,” students should come away with an understanding—or an improved understanding—of how these function and especially why a writer may choose each of these techniques.