our everyday life

Activity to Teach Kids How to Understand Figurative Language

by Dana Tuffelmire, studioD

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts specify that students should be knowledgeable in using figurative language to make their writing interesting for the reader. As early as grade 3, the standards call for students to "determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language." Introduce your child to similes, metaphors, idioms, alliteration and personification by reading, talking, singing and playing games.

Picture Books

Children's books are an engaging way to teach your child to identify, appreciate and understand rich, figurative language. Share the book with your child, stopping to discuss figurative language and to point out how the illustrations can help improve understanding. If the author used idioms, ask your child what he thinks they mean before telling him what it actually means. Fred Gwynne wrote several books geared toward kids ages 8 and older that illustrate many common homophones and other figurative language. The "Amelia Bedelia" book series by Peggy Parish provides an excellent starting point for discussions about literal versus figurative meanings. LibraryThing.com publishes an online list of children's books written with a variety of types of figurative language.

Ongoing Book

Adults use figurative expressions all the time without thinking about it. You've likely said to your child, "It's raining cats and dogs" or "This puzzle was a piece of cake." Instead of agreeing with you, your child probably gave you a quizzical look and asked you what that means. Use everyday opportunities to teach your child about idioms, similes or metaphors by making an ongoing book. Every time you or your child says or hears a new figurative phrase, help him illustrate and label it on a piece of paper. Use a hole punch and a piece of yarn to easily attach each new page. Occasionally review the book with your child to promote further understanding and commend him on his progress.

Figurative Language Charades

An interactive game of charades can be a giggle-inducing way to teach your child many common idioms, metaphors or similes. Use the game to review language your child already knows or to introduce a few new phrases. Prepare for the game by creating a pile of figurative phrases on note cards. Enlist your child's help if desired. Good phrases might include "I'm in a pickle," "A drop in the bucket," "We're all in the same boat," "A light at the end of the tunnel," or "Sleep like a baby." Consider drawing the clues instead of acting them out in a game similar to Pictionary.


Music is packed with figurative language, including alliteration, similes, metaphors and idioms. Choose your child's favorite song and print the lyrics. Go through each line pointing out figurative language. Let your child use a highlighter or a marker to circle or underline specific words or phrases. Sing, dance and challenge your child to find figurative language in other songs. Songs to consider include "Firework" by Katy Perry, "Candle in the Wind" by Elton John, "Life is a Highway" by Rascal Flatts, "Smile" by Uncle Kracker or "The River" by Garth Brooks.

About the Author

Dana Tuffelmire has been writing for DMS for three years. She taught elementary school for seven years and earned a master’s of education degree with a specialization in literacy. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two sons. Her dream is to one day write a children's book.

Photo Credits

  • Ableimages/Digital Vision/Getty Images