Seasonal Similes: Teaching Similes with The Polar Express

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Every year around this time, it’s a constant battle to keep students’ attention, isn’t it? I mean, who can compete with presents, parties and a much anticipated two-week vacation?!

Well, I’ve found that rather than fight the season, you might as well run with it. When I apply this if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em attitude to my lesson plans, I find a world of new inspiration. Take holiday story books, for instance. One of my favorites is The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. It just so happens that this book is chock full of similes and metaphors; there’s practically one on every page. Here’s my lesson plan to teach these literary elements via this classic Christmas tale:

  1. First, define simile and metaphor as a class. (Simile= a comparison between two unlike things, using the words like or as, i.e. “Lights flickered in the distance. They looked LIKE the lights of a strange ocean liner sailing on a frozen sea.” Metaphor= a comparison between two unlike things that does NOT use the words like or as, i.e. “[The train] was wrapped in an apron of steam.”
  2. Come up with your own examples as a class. [The sun is like a large, yellow beach ball suspended in the sky (simile). Or: The tree’s branches were arms lifted toward the clouds (metaphor).]
  3. Then, tell the class you’re going to read The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. Every time they hear a simile, they should wave one hand at you. Every time they hear a metaphor, they should wave two hands.
  4. As you read and they wave, stop to write the similes and metaphors on the board, while students record them in their notebooks (or on paper). A two-columned chart (T-chart) works great for this, with similes in one column and metaphors in the other (there will be quite a few more similes than metaphors).
  5. Once you’re done with the book, discuss as a class why Chris Van Allsburg included similes and metaphors: How did they help you visualize the scenes?
  6. Give each student a piece of white construction paper, and have them choose one simile or metaphor from the book to illustrate. They can write the simile or metaphor at the bottom as a caption.
  7. Hang up their simile illustrations around the room…and then congratulate yourself on capitalizing on the holiday merriment with a teachable moment!

Other great seasonal story books to check out:

The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polaccho~ a classic tale of Hanukkah.
The Night Before Christmas Pop-Up
by Clement Clark Moore and Robert Sabuda~ an ingeniously amazing pop-up book depicting this classic tale.
Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Sever~ Christmas retold from the perspective of the Wise Men’s camel, Humphrey.

Submitted by Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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