20+ Metaphor Examples: Teaching Metaphors • Grade University

How to teach metaphors: 20+ metaphor examples for students

How to teach metaphors: 20+ metaphor examples for students


  • Speaking
  • Vocabulary
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Anyone who learns a language long enough knows that it is not as direct as it seems at first sight. There are collocations, idioms, metaphors, and generally so many things to teach and explain! 

In this article, we are going to focus on metaphors and common issues that ESL teachers might face when it comes to teaching metaphors.

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What is a metaphor?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them”.

This dictionary also suggests the following example: “to drown in money”. Of course, nobody can really drown in money unless they are Scrooge McDuck, a famous cartoon character. 

However, one can indeed have countless funds. Therefore, people do use some kind of figurative language to express certain things more emotionally

For English learners, it means a bit of additional work to learn metaphors to be able to participate in day-to-day communication.

Why is it important?

Metaphors are an integral part of our everyday communication even if we don’t feel like it. What is more, the reader is always affected by metaphors. 

They usually serve as a source of inspiration and a tool for emphasizing values. This is crucial for ordinary speech too, not only for stories and poems as one may tend to think. 

It’s indeed a very valuable skill to comprehend metaphors and recognize them as they appear. 

Metaphors are intended to create a more meaningful statement or to paint a striking picture.

Therefore, as soon as your students learn how to implement metaphors in their speech, the effectiveness of their communication will increase and they will generally feel freer during the speaking process.

As for the young learners, they benefit from metaphorical explanations too since they are able to visualize the subject better and therefore remember it for a longer period of time.

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Metaphor & Similes: similarities and differences

Despite the fact that even dictionaries suggest the term “simile” as the one close in meaning to “metaphor,” they are in fact different

The definition doesn’t help either:

Simile is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as (as in cheeks like roses).

However, the difference does exist, and it is important to understand it when it comes to teaching metaphors. Let’s compare!

MeaningClearly compares two objects by saying that one thing is actually something else.Compares things but enables two or more objects to stay distinct by applying the words “as”, “like”, “than” and other comparative structures. 
UseAdd more creativity to the speech, make it brighter and more imaginativeCompare two things in a creative way
FormNo specific words applied. The only thing is a certain relationship between objects that make the metaphor work.Specific words are used: as, like, than.
Example:Sample of metaphors: “A while blanket of snow”Sample of similes: “Snows looks like a white blanket”

How to explain metaphors?

Teaching metaphors can be a rather challenging task, no matter who you work with. 

Both elementary and advanced students may struggle with such complicated material and it is a teacher’s responsibility to make the meaning accessible and cases of usage obvious. 

Below, we have collected some tips on how to explain metaphors and teach them effectively:

Pick up age-appropriate material

The list of metaphors is indeed countless. They vary according to topic, difficulty, popularity and much more.

Therefore, you have to consider all of these factors while including metaphors in your lesson plan. Think whether the metaphors are not too difficult, the meaning is clear enough, and the whole structure can be applied successfully in various situations.

All of these factors truly define the success of teaching metaphors.

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Make sure students know all the words

As it was previously mentioned, metaphors can be very easy or, vice versa, extremely difficult.

Make sure that your students know all the words that are included so as not to make all the abstract matters even more difficult to explain than they already are.

Show the context

There is no point in teaching any figurative language outside of context. 

Look for the appropriate context which can clearly illustrate the usage. It is always better and more memorable than explaining the meaning for hours without actually showing examples.

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Be creative

It is hard to find a more creativity-friendly topic.

Ask your students to draw their associations, write their own poetry or short stories using only metaphors, and assign them fun games and challenges. Give them a chance to create their own metaphors after all! 

I promise you this topic can be made more than breathtaking so easily. 

Show how to recognize and differentiate

Don’t forget to go through some theory to help students see this figurative language and know whether or not they deal with literal meaning.

This skill is extremely helpful for any language learner!

What are some easy examples of metaphors?

It may be surprising to realize that metaphors can actually fulfill the majority of our communicative needs and may be used to describe almost anything. 

Here are some especially popular topics and some examples of simple metaphors grouped according to them.

Animals – easy metaphors examples

  1. He is a night owl/ She is an early bird. – He wakes up and goes to sleep late/ She wakes up and goes to sleep early.
  2. He is a chicken. – He is not brave.
  3. This place is a zoo. – This place is very noisy and diverse.
  4. This computer is a dinosaur. – This computer is very old.
  5. He is a pig at the dinner table. – He is very untidy and chaotic and can’t behave himself well at the table.

Here you can get acquainted with 47 other famous animal metaphors.

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Nature – simple metaphors’ examples

  1. The snow is a white blanket. – There is a lot of white snow that covers everything around.
  2. They have grown in the concrete jungle. – They have been raised in a city with no access to nature. 
  3. We saw a seven-color ribbon in the sky. – We saw a rainbow.
  4. I was blinded by the sun. – The sun shone very brightly.
  5. The sunrise is the world’s rebirth. –A new day symbolizes new life.

Here you can discover 68 other metaphors for nature.

Character/Emotions – easy metaphors examples

  1. It's sparking. – She is angry.
  2. He's walking through walls. – He is very nervous.
  3. She is a sun. – She is a very good person.
  4. He has a big heart. – He is very kind.
  5. She touched the sky with her hands. – She was very happy.

Appearance – simple metaphors examples

  1. Her beauty is the sun that never sets. – She always looks extremely beautiful.
  2. Shedding hair is the echo of past selves. – A person who went through a lot of valuable experiences has got gray hair.
  3. Eyes are the mirrors of the mind. – Your eyes show the level of your intelligence and comprehension.

113 more metaphors on beauty can be found here. 

Here are also 100 metaphors about hair.

Following this link, you are going to become familiar with some other metaphors for describing eyes.

This list is, of course, very limited as collecting all the metaphors in one place is a task that will never be completed.

That is why we encourage you and your students to experiment as much as possible by collecting well-said metaphors through reading and listening to various authentic materials or even creating your own imaginative metaphors

Gain confidence with our online TEFL courses and make every single lesson an unforgettable creative endeavor.

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Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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