Similes are Like Kittens Glued Together: Analyzing and Writing Similes about Cold Weather

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SWBAT demonstrate understanding of figurative language by crafting similes to describe the cold weather of "The Polar Vortex."

Big Idea

How do you describe wind chills of 30 degrees below and walls of snow outside the school? By comparing it to something relatable, of course!

Introduction & Welcome: It's "Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs'" "Birthday"

3 minutes

I welcome students to class sharing that, on this date in 1937, Walt Disney released "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs," the company's first feature-length animated film. As we tend to refer to Disney a lot in our look at American culture, marking this date, really sets in mind Disney's 90 years (Walt and Roy Disney founded "Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio" in 1923) of impact and adaptation. As always, the Daily Holiday serves to draw students in, building student ownership and a sense of community in the class.

I also take a moment to let the students know today will be focused on figures of speech, particularly the look at similes they previously began. 

Collaboration is like Group Work: Simile Analysis

20 minutes

Today, we're continuing our look at similes to create vivid images, not unlike Stephen Crane in "The Red Badge of Courage" to report on the horrors of the war in vivid language. In order to demonstrate understanding of similes, we are connecting this figurative language with the frigid "Polar Vortex" weather of the winter of 2014. 

I select one of the similes from the list, "Actual Similes Created By High School Students" to break down as a model, such as, "She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up."  I ask students, "Why is this so vivid?" addressing the words, "deep, throaty and genuine", particularly looking for an example of a deep laugh or a throaty laugh from the students, and what "genuine" implies (real, believable, honest) and why this description of a laugh contrasts with laughter.  

Students then move into collaborative groups. (In this example, students are grouped by row, allowing some friends to work together, but also putting together group members that students don't know so well, strengthening the exchange of ideas. Randomizing groups works as well.) The student groups read and evaluate the language of other similes on the list, looking for and discussing how the word choice creates a specific image in the readers' heads. By evaluating these, students demonstrate understanding of similes and their role in creating vivid imagery in writing (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5). I chose this list primarily because its humor is engaging, but in the ridiculousness of some of these examples, students can start to "see" how vivid details paint a picture. Once groups have exhausted this conversation, I ask them to begin brainstorming to create their own list of similes. 

After each group has discussed and decided on their favorites or those they find most striking, I ask for a volunteer from each group to share their thought on the simile examples and why certain ones, such as the "bowling ball simile"  work so well to create vivid imagery, referring back to our model. Students explicitly refer to evidence from word choice of the similes to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a) on the effectiveness of similes.  

Brainstorms are Like Making Lists: Cold-Weather Words

10 minutes

I ask students to jot down all of the words the can think of that describe the cold on the back of their simile assignment. While they're brainstorming, I circulate the room keep tabs on good examples. After sixty seconds, I ask students to come to the board and write their words on the whiteboard; I make sure the "good examples" I noted as I circulated go up as well. 

By keeping tabs on some student examples, I can ensure there are a variety of words on the board, and encourage some of the more timid or unwilling students to take an active role in class. 

After the list is compiled on the board (Cold Brainstorm 1Cold Brainstorm 2) we analyze nuances in the meaning of these words, asking them to evaluate which ones are most "cold" to those that are "warmer" in connotation (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5b). By ranking these, we can develop an understanding of connotation, as students see the various ways to portray the concept of "cold." 

Similes Are Like Comparisons, But More Detailed

15 minutes

In their small groups, students collaborate to develop at least three similes that describe the cold weather (this is being written in the winter of 2014, when the Midwest was hit with the "Polar Vortex" and students have had--as of this writing--four "snow days" called for severe sub-zero temperatures). In order to continue the exchange of ideas (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a) and demonstrate understanding of figurative language and word nuances (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5), students' similes should vividly evoke mental images of cold and snow, as the similes in the examples vividly create mental images. 

These similes also serve as a prewrite for a descriptive writing assignment using precise words and phrases telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the cold weather this year (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3d). This exercise serves as a way for students to demonstrate their understanding of figures of speech and imagery, as one of the similes will serve as the title of, and driving theme of their paper. This practice with similes will not only show understanding of the use of figurative language in the stories we read, but also in understanding the imagery used to establish setting.

As students brainstorm and discuss their similes, I circulate the room, providing encouragement and feedback, as well as directing students to consult the thesauruses/thesauri in the classroom to look up word options (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4c).

Student examples: Similes 1Similes 2Similes 3Similes 4.

To wrap up class, I ask each group to share at one of their similes, so that they can draw from each other's ideas.  

Two-Minute Warning: Wrap-Up & Reminders, Homework

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining, I ask students to turn in their simile examples, and read the Descriptive Sketch Writing Prompt Directions they will need for tomorrow's drafting. Their homework is to make sure they understand "Descriptive Sketch" and to decide which of their group's similes they want to use as the basis for their piece.