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Lesson Plan

As Slippery as an Eel: An Ocean Unit Exploring Simile and Metaphor

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As Slippery as an Eel: An Ocean Unit Exploring Simile and Metaphor

Grades K – 2
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Carolyn Wilhelm

Carolyn Wilhelm

Maple Grove, Minnesota


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



Students are prompted to use comparisons to discuss what they see as they picture walk through books about the ocean. They identify what these comparisons have in common to arrive at an informal name and definition of simile. They then create illustrations showing these comparisons. Next, students picture walk through two additional picture books about the ocean and comment about what they see. They are introduced to metaphor by rewording some of their comments into metaphors. They continue to note metaphors as the books are read aloud, and then name and define this new type of comparison. They again draw pictures to illustrate some of these metaphors. Students discuss why writers use these types of comparisons, then work to revise existing writing to incorporate figurative language through guided practice or independent work. Finally, students use templates to create a book on the ocean that features similes and metaphors.

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Marine Education Books for Children: This booklist offers suggestions for books about ocean animals and other marine topics.

Class Book Template (younger students): Use this template to guide younger writers in using figurative language in their pages about the ocean.

Class Book Template (older students)
: Use this template to guide more advanced writers in using figurative language in their pages about the ocean.

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This lesson explores figurative language comparisons formally known as simile and metaphor; however, the focus of the lesson is on exploring the ways that authors use words rather than on the official terminology for language use. In Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom, author Katie Wood Ray advises, "Give it [the craft element you identify in a text] a name so you can refer to it easily in the future as you study craft and as you writing your own texts"; yet the name that students use need not be the formal, "correct" name (42). The formal name of the element simply detracts from the ways that writers work. As Ray explains, "What's important is that, in seeing it and naming it for yourself, you have a new vision of what's possible when you try to write well" (42). When we do use formal names for craft elements, best practice pairs such words with students' definitions of the elements. Ray and Lisa Cleaveland say, "We are careful to use the words most writers in the world use for the important concepts of writing . . . if we embed kid-friendly explanations of what they mean...we need not shy away from the words themselves" (98).

Further Reading

Ray, Katie Wood. 1999. Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Read more about this resource


Cleaveland, Lisa and Ray, Katie Wood. 2004. About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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