Working on Figurative Language in Speech

Figurative language can be such a fun part of language arts instruction for all ages! When students read about and write with figurative language, it is playful and imaginative. Things like similes, idioms, and hyperbole do not use English words in a literal sense. This can make working with figurative language very difficult for students with language delays. However, there are many things that can be done as part of speech that can make figurative language make sense to students so they can have fun with it, just like their peers! 

What Is Figurative Language? 

Figurative language is a word or phrase that is not used in a literal way. With figurative language, we move from using words to clarify something to using words playfully to describe something in a unique way. 

There are several main types of figurative language: 

  • Simile, which uses the words “like” or “as” to compare two unlike things. An example of a simile is “I’m as cold as an icicle” when someone is very cold. 
  • Metaphors also compare two unlike things, but they use direct comparison and don’t include the words “like” or “as”. An example of a metaphor is “You’re a shining star” when someone does well in a performance. 
  • Personification gives human characteristics to non-human animals or objects. “The windows stared down at the boy” is an example of personification. 
  • Alliteration is the usage of one beginning consonant sound over and over. The famous tongue-twister “She sells seashells by the seashore” is an example of alliteration. It probably goes without saying that alliteration can be a very difficult- but also a great learning opportunity!- for students with articulation delays.
  • Onomatopoeia gives words to sounds. “Snap”, “pop”, and “boom” are all examples of onomatopoeia. 
  • Hyperbole is found frequently in children’s literature. It is a way to hilariously exaggerate situations to make a point. Statements like “I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse” are examples of hyperbole. However, hyperbole can very very difficult for students who take things very literally. 
  • Finally, idioms are figures of speech that do not mean what the words actually say. Idioms exist in every language and can be colloquial. Phrases like “I have a frog in my throat” or “She got cold feet” are examples of idioms. Again, students who take things literally might have a difficult time understanding idioms without explicit instruction. 

Why Teach Figurative Language? 

So other than having fun and the occasional poetry unit, is it important to teach figurative language? The answer is- absolutely! Students are exposed to figurative language more than we may realize through books, conversations with friends, and even media! Understanding figurative language is a big part of comprehending literature and comprehending what is going on in the world around them. 

The use of similes and metaphors can make complex comparisons easier to understand. Onomatopoeia, hyperbole, and personification can help a reader create a more vivid picture of a situation in their mind, which can lead to increased comprehension and better writing skills. 

Additionally, students must begin learning about figurative language in 4th grade. This vocabulary standard continues through the end of high school. Students will be faced with figurative language throughout their lives, and learning how to interact with figurative language will allow students to better express themselves, comprehend, and enjoy reading and conversation more.

Figurative Language Activities in Speech 

There are many fun ways to incorporate figurative language into Speech! These activities will not only help students better comprehend in the general education classroom, but they will also allow students to practice figurative language in real-world situations, which will help students with articulation, pragmatics, and vocabulary. Here are some of my favorite ways to practice figurative language! 

  • Analyze the figurative language in popular music (with school-appropriate lyrics, of course!). Students can listen to parts of songs while they follow along with the lyrics. This way, they can hear the emotion of the song, and make a more educated guess about what the lyrics are trying to convey. This activity can be written or discussed and can include components of receptive language, articulation, pragmatic, expressive language, or vocabulary goals. 

  • Idioms can be explicitly taught by matching pictures. For example the idiom “She got cold feet” would be matched with a picture of a girl looking nervous. This activity is great for vocabulary acquisition and pragmatic conversation goals. 

  • Tongue twisters, aka alliteration, can be used to teach fluency and articulation. Students can practice saying the words one at a time, and then practice putting the words together in progressively longer sentences. 

  • Taking turns describing objects with figurative language is a great way to get some expressive language, receptive language, and articulation practice in. Students can select an object to describe, and the SLP can give them a card that specifies what figurative language components to use to describe it. For example “Describe this room using 3 similies”. The other students can guess what the speaking student is describing. 

If you need more figurative language ideas for your speech classroom, then check out my monthly membership, packed full of low-prep activities older speech students love!