Unpacking a Metaphysical Conceit

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SWBAT will be able to analyze a metaphor as part of a metaphyscial conceit

Big Idea

Understanding a complex metaphor is made easier when students see each step along the way.

Steps to Unpack a Metaphor

15 minutes

The lesson begins with an overview of how to unpack a metaphor. I use this presentation to help students understand the steps of unpacking a metaphor. 

 I use frames 14-16 and 18 and we follow the steps to unpack the metaphor examples on the slides.

'Lean and Harken While Away'

35 minutes

The day before I placed four different excerpts from literature, each with a different metaphysical conceit on colored butcher paper.  Underneath the quote I wrote: Main Comparison, Main Image, Language Effects, and Overall Effect.  

Then I put students into four groups. Six students are absent today so each group is only two students. I explained to the students that they are going to follow the steps from the PowerPoint to unpack these metaphors. Rather than unpack just one metaphor, they are going to move around the room looking at a different part of each metaphor. They will build off each other's work until they get to the last quote, where they will describe the overall effect. 

I chose a carousel technique because of the difficulty students sometimes have when learning to unpack a metaphor. Rather than look at three different aspects of one metaphor and trying to unpack it; here, they look at all three aspects from four different poems and then draw their conclusions. 

Students reluctantly begin to move toward a poster and begin with the first step, identifying the main comparison.  I move around the room monitoring students and answering questions, or using Socratic questions to prompt students toward a conclusion.  About half the students correctly identify what's being compared.  The rest have an answer, but it only looks at one part of the poem, not the whole poem.  

When students are done writing I announce, "Switch!" and they move clockwise to the next excerpt. First I ask them to check the work of the group that was there before them and to make any corrections if necessary.  Some of the groups make corrections and some do not. 

Then the students move from what is being compared to the main image in the poem. As a prompt I ask students, "What do you see when you read these lines? Who is the poet speaking to? Can you tell where they are?  Can you tell what they are doing?" These questions usually help students identify the images in the poem which may or may not be the same as the comparison. 

Students reading the excerpt from The Flea, for example, wrote down that the main comparison was marriage and a flea.  The next group of students wrote that the main image was a woman getting ready to kill a flea and the poet asking her not to. They also wrote that it seemed like the poet and woman were in bed. 

Sometimes the image is abstract, for example the Romeo and Juliet quote compares Juliet's tears to an ocean, and Juliet herself to a harbor. 

Again students struggle, and about half can identify the image, and other simply write down concrete nouns they see in the excerpts. Once students are done writing I announce, "Switch!" again and they move to the third excerpt. 

Students check the work of the two previous groups and make corrections, then look at language effects.  Again, I am moving around the room asking students questions like, "Can you hear any particular sounds when you heard the excerpt read aloud.  Does the poem rhyme? Are there any other metaphors, similes or personification within the extended metaphor?"  

They identify what they can including rhyme scheme and alliteration.  They are also trying to explain to each other what the poem means and they are frustrated by the complexity of the ideas present in the excerpts. 

I have them switch one last time, and ask them to check the overall work of all the other students who answered before them

"Now," I say, "based on the comparison, imagery, and language, what does the metaphor seem to be about. Work on that and then we will discuss all four excerpts as a class. 


5 minutes

Once students are done with unpacking the metaphor I ask them to present their findings to the rest of the class. This takes a lot of questioning on my part as the students are convinced that they still don't know what the metaphor is trying to express. 

I start with the group standing in front of "The Flea" excerpt.  "What do you think is being compared?" I ask.  

"It seems like the narrator is comparing a woman to a flea." One of the students says.  

"What makes you think that?" I ask. 

The student begins to make use of her classmates' work, going through each step and explaining why she came to her final conclusion.  

"I think he's saying that the flea is like a pregnancy", she says. "And that the blood inside the flea is like a pregnancy, or maybe like their souls blending together."

I move around to the other groups asking the same types of questions and prompting them to use the chart to explain the metaphor.