Poems for Teaching Similes

Poems for Teaching Similes

Use these examples of poems with similes to teach similes and figurative language in high school or middle school. These poems are oft anthologized and many can be found in the public domain by means of a Google search.

ELA Common Core Standards Covered

Teaching similes in poems may cover the following ELA Common Core Standards.  This is for your administrator, not your kids.  Kids need student-friendly worded objectives.

  1. RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text
  2. RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  3. RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
  4. RL.9-10.10 By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
  5. L.9-10.6 Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
  6. L.9-10.5  Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. 
  7. L.9-10.5a  Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.

Key Points When Teaching Similes in Poetry

Teach students how to annotate and analyze a poem before focusing on one specific element. There are multiple levels of understanding simile. Before doing so, be aware of the following steps to mastery:

  • Define simile: Give the definition. Give a quiz. Check if the definition is correct. Boring.
  • Identify similes: Being able to identify simile raises one above the level of primates, but it still falls short of mastery.
  • Interpret similes: Explaining why the author chooses a particular simile and what effect it has on the poem’s theme makes one nearly a master of simile.
  • Use similes: Being able to use similes to convey more clearly a specific message means mastery.

This figurative language in poetry lesson plan will help students accomplish levels 1-4 in the context of a poetry unit.

List of Recommended Poems

These examples of poems using similes are by no means an exhaustive list. I chose poems that are often found in high school and middle school text books and/or can be easily located online through means of a Google search.

1.  “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance produced poetry that screams against racism and its effects on the individual. Hughes poses several questions regarding the results of deferred dreams. It touches, through deft use of simile, the end result of discouragement and unfairness. Depending on the prior knowledge of your students, you may want to give background on the history of racism in America.

  • Lesson Idea: Before reading the poem, have students write a paragraph about a time they really wanted something and it was denied. After reading the poem, instruct students to rewrite the paragraph using similes.

2. “Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns: Burns writes the classic love poem, comparing his love to a red rose and a melody in the first stanza. The final two stanzas end with hyperbolic love declarations that seem utterly ridiculous and cliche to normal human beings, but wildly romantic to hormone crazed teens. Use a similar assignment as the one above. Replace the concept of a dream deferred with that of love.
3.  “Simile” by N. Scott Momaday – As the title implies, the entire poem is a simile. Momaday compares Native Americans to the deer he used to hunt. Momaday’s simile contains much latent meaning. Encourage students to explore potential meanings. A brief lesson on connotation may be useful.
4.  “The Base Stealer” by Robert Francis – Prove that poetry isn’t just for nature loving, overly constipated geeks. Robert Francis’ description of a base stealer captures the intensity of speed on the bases. A fun activity is to show tense sporting moments and instruct students to come up with several similes to describe it.
5. “To Satch” by Samuel Allen – Since we’re on the subject of baseball, try this dedication to Satchel Paige. As you’ve probably gathered, I’m a big fan of mimickry. Instruct students to write a similar poem to one of their favorite stars.
6. Shakespeare Sonnet CXXX – For those of you yet to memorize Shakespeare’s sonnets, this one begins “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Only Shakespeare could express his love through using insulting similes. Teenagers love making fun of people. Let them make some simile insults. You may want to compare this sonnet to Petrarch’s sonnets.

Teaching Literary Elements with Poems

Understanding literary elements is necessary for literary analysis.  These poems will help you teach literary elements.

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