Standard Lesson

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

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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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.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

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

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Books that include figurative language, including The Sea House by Deborah Turney Zagwyn and My Visit to the Aquarium by Aliki




Student Objectives

Students will

  • participate in large group sessions, volunteering interesting comparisons in oral discussions.

  • add ideas to an ongoing class chart with figurative language.

  • add words to class charts devoted to an ocean theme.

  • dictate or write about ocean creatures using similes and metaphors and comparison words.

  • illustrate their comparisons.

  • create a page for a class book.

  • assess their efforts using a checklist.

Session One

  1. Using some of the ocean books, show pictures of whales, fish, and ocean creatures. Picture walk through the book. Do not read the stories at this point.

  2. Encourage the students to discuss what they see in the pictures.

  3. Prompt students to finish sentence stems such as “The whale is as big as ___________” or “The fish is scary like a ____________.”

  4. As the students complete the sentence stems and add their own statements, record their responses on chart paper or the board.

  5. After sharing the pictures, invite students to read their comments from the chart or board aloud.

  6. Ask students what the statements have in common. Elicit the fact many use like or as.

  7. From this discussion, explain that many of the statements provided by the students compare two unlike things.

  8. Ask students to craft their own name and definition of these comparisons (formally, they are similes). Post their responses on chart paper or the board. A possible definition is “when two things are compared using the word like or as.” What is important is for students to be able to describe the comparisons, not to use the word simile.

  9. Invite the students to act as detectives in the coming days. Ask them to tell you when they hear or think of a simile. Add such statements to the chart, or have the children do the writing.

  10. If there is time left in the session, use the Stapleless Book to illustrate similes. When the book is folded, there will be a page on the left and a page on the right. For instance, if the simile was "A shark is as scary as a tornado", the students could draw a shark on the left side of the book, and a tornado on the right side.

Session Two

  1. Picture walk through the pages of The Sea House by Deborah Turney Zagwyn or My Visit to the Aquarium by Aliki.

  2. Provide time for the students to discuss the pictures. Some may choose to use similes, using the definition and name(s) that students chose for the literary element in the previous session. Record comments on chart paper or the board.

  3. Model another way to compare unlike items, by rephrasing some of their comments into metaphors.

  4. Ask the students to describe the similarities and differences between similes and metaphors.

  5. Invite the students to rephrase some of their comments from the chart or board about the story as metaphors. Again, record the students’ phrases and note their use of figurative language.

  6. Read the book once through to give students a general sense of the story.

  7. Flip through the pages a second time, pausing and prompting students to complete comparisons, as shown on the activity sheet for The Sea House or the activity sheet for My Visit to the Aquarium For instance, after reading the Walt Whitman poem, prompt by saying, “The sea is a ___________.” (miracle)

  8. Record students’ words when stated as a metaphor.

  9. Ask students to review their own statements, asking them to identify their similarities. Ask them to consider how these statements compare two unlike things without using like or as.

  10. Ask students to craft their own name and definition of these comparisons (formally, they are metaphors). Post their responses on chart paper or the board, focusing on the aspect of direct comparison. Again, what is important is for the students to describe the comparisons, not to use the word metaphor.

  11. Ask students to look for examples of this type of figurative language device as they read texts over the next days. When they find examples, add the phrases to the chart.

  12. If students notice the difference between the two kinds of comparisons that you have studied in these sessions, reinforce their discovery and adjust their definitions as necessary. If students do not recognize the difference, you might ask leading questions to help them see the contrast, but do not over-emphasize this process. The focus of this lesson should be on the pleasant sound of words and phrases, and students’ explorations and discovery should be self-guided, never forced or overt.

  13. Draw a chart with a large rectangle, divided in half, similar to the class book template for Younger Students. On one side of the rectangle, ask students to draw a picture of an ocean creature. On the other side, ask students to draw the item they are comparing the ocean animal to. To provide students with an example, draw a picture of ocean waves on the left side of the rectangle and a treasure chest on the right to illustrate the comparison “the ocean is a treasure.”

Session Three

  1. To connect with the work that they students have done in their reading, explain that the class will be revising some their own writing and adding comparison phrases, explaining the activity by referring to the definitions and terms that students have chosen for similes and metaphors.

  2. Ask students to suggest reasons that writers use similes and metaphors. Possible answers include “It makes the writing more interesting” and “It is fun to read the sentences and phrases when different things are compared.”

  3. Pass out copies of the Guided Practice Work Page or display a transparency of the sheet. Discuss the directions with the students, and demonstrate the process with an example sentence. More experienced students can also use the Independent Practice Work Page and select passages from their own writing to revise.

  4. Use the rest of this session to work on the Guided Practice Work Page individually, in pairs or small groups, or as a whole class.

  5. Allow time for the students to share some of their revisions with the class.

Session Four

  1. When everyone in the class has had a chance to revise for similes and metaphors, explain that the class will make a book on the ocean that features the comparisons you have been exploring. Use the language that students have chosen for their definitions and names for the elements.

  2. Ask each student to choose an ocean animal. Work for a range of animals, avoiding repetition if possible.

  3. Explain the process you have chosen for students to use for the class book, following the relevant details below, referring to the Ocean Comparisons Sheet for an example:

    • Pass out copies of the Template for Younger Students or Older Students and explain the worksheet.

    • Demonstrate the Multigenre Mapper and explain how students will use each of the areas of the tool:

      • In Section A, write the name of the subject, the ocean animal each student has chosen.

      • In Section B, write something about what you are comparing the ocean animal to.

      • In Section C, write a sentence comparison.

      • In the drawing area, draw the ocean creature and/or what is named in space B.
  4. Provide time for students to work on their page of the class book. Encourage students to use the ocean books that are available in the classroom for reference and research.

  5. Circulate and help children in very short writing conferences.

  6. Ask students to print at least two copies of their pages—one for the class book and another for each student to keep and share with family members.

  7. Have a circle sharing time as projects are finished, or plan to have a few children share each day.


  • Using their ocean theme, students could write a shape poem, using the online Shape Poems interactive.

  • More advanced students can create a Venn Diagram, comparing the attributes of Similes and Metaphors. Focus the exploration on the definitions and terms that students use naturally, rather than on using the formal names for the figures of speech.

  • The class as a whole, or individual students, can use the Alphabet Organizer to create an ocean-themed student dictionary or alphabet book. Invite students to brainstorm words to enter (all letters do not have to be represented). The online tool allows students to enter one word, more than one word, or a word and related notes for each letter of the alphabet. Print the finished pages, and encourage students to add to the book on an ongoing basis.

  • If your students want to learn more about ocean life, explore Scholastic's Ocean Life And the National Zoo's Ocean Living. The octopus cam provides an excellent opportunity for students to observe marine animals and use figurative language to describe what they see.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Base your assessments—formal or informal—on your students’ needs, focusing on elements such as the following:

    • student participation in whole-group discussions.

    • student participation in writing assignments.

    • quality of participation in discovery of examples of comparison.

    • quality of content in student books, especially comparison sentences.

    • student participation in discussion about their page in the class book.

  • When the class book is completed and published, provide time for the students to share their work with the rest of the class. Invite the students to complete the Student Self-Assessment, which prompts them to think about the work that they have accomplished and the steps they have completed.

  • If students print out a Multigenre Mapper or complete a handout, provide feedback as you normally would. If you choose a more formal assessment strategy, use the following guiding questions:

    • Did the student add comments or write phrases on the comparison chart?

    • Did the student volunteer appropriate words for the online interactive or printed template?

    • Did the student include appropriate figurative language in the writing projects?

    • Did the student speak up during the day when similes and metaphors were noticed, other than in writing class?

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