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KS2 similes and metaphors – 9 ways to teach with confidence

The effective use of descriptive language is key for greater depth writing – so here's how to help pupils bring their ideas to life with this literary technique, metaphorically...
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By Sue Drury

Last updated 15 May 2020

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Similes and metaphors are key features of descriptive language. The question is, are you confident that you can help your pupils to weave each literary device seamlessly into their writing?

Even if you think you are, check through this list of ideas. There’s usually something to magpie from someone else’s thoughts. (See what I did there?)



Explain why metaphors and similes are useful

It is important to sprinkle descriptive writing with similes and metaphors because it makes it clearer and more interesting to read. It’s about creating images in the reader’s mind and the clearer those images are, the more effective the writing.

For example, think how much more appealing it is to write “sprinkle descriptive writing with …” than “add” some similes and metaphors. Sprinkle suggests a lightness of touch; something that might make the writing sparkle.

Metaphorical language, even with the use of a simple metaphor, can almost always make something more interesting.



Give a clear definition of similes and metaphors

What are similes and metaphors? Broadly speaking, they are examples of descriptive language (others include personification, onomatopoeia and hyperbole). Their job is to bring descriptions to life by comparing one idea to another.



Explain the difference between similes and metaphors

If they both do much the same job, how can you get pupils to remember which is which?

I’ve found it helps to draw on the way simile shares a root with the word similar. Things that are similar are like each other, so there’s your clue: similes are the ones that say one thing is like the other.

Alternatively, they can use the word as to draw the comparison. Like often works with verbs (swim like a fish, run like the wind) while as often works with adjectives (tall as a tree, brave as a lion) but this is not always the case.

Metaphors, on the other hand, simply state that something is something else, without using like or as. For example, a river of tears ran down her cheek.



Give examples of similes and metaphors

No doubt, you are more than capable of thinking of examples of common similes and metaphors all by yourself but, sometimes, even the best of us welcome extra inspiration. Also, if you’re anything like me, you might find that you’re only able to come up with unsatisfactory examples or cliches when put on the spot.

To get the conversation started in your classroom, why not use our KS2 Imagery in Writing Posters: Metaphors, Similes and Personification?

Using speech bubbles around a fun image, these attractive posters give strong examples that really emphasise the difference between the similes and metaphors, whilst throwing in personification for good measure.



Get them to explain the difference in their own words

There’s nothing like having to explain something to see whether you have properly understood it yourself. Make sure your pupils can demonstrate what they have learnt by orally defining both terms to a talk partner. Alternatively, they can write their own definition.



Get them to show they know what similes and metaphors are

Of course, pupils do have to demonstrate that they can apply their knowledge. For this, they will need a writing task that calls for creative, descriptive language. So, not a formal letter to a bank manager, then! Ordinary language. Everyday language.

During the planning stage, set them the challenge of preparing different metaphors and similes to be inserted at appropriate times. Not only will this remind them to include figurative language, but it should also get them into an expressive frame of mind.

Emphasise that they need to blend their ideas into the writing so that it doesn’t feel too ‘clunky’ or contrived.



Get them to spot simile and metaphor examples

There are two ways you could do this. One is to find a suitable text and get them to underline examples of similes and metaphors, ideally in different colours to show they can identify both sorts.

Our KS2 Similes and Metaphors worksheets are great for this. The same resources can also be used for explaining their understanding, applying their knowledge and testing their skills.

Alternatively, get them to read each other’s work and act as a critical friend. So, if they feel that their partner’s simile or metaphor doesn’t work or could be improved, challenge them to make a suggestion of their own. Which brings us on to …



Encourage them to choose their descriptive language well

The trick with similes and metaphors is finding a common feature between the thing you are describing and the one you are comparing it with. However, the skill is in choosing the right feature and comparison.

Remember, the whole point is to provide descriptions that create accurate or vibrant pictures in the reader’s mind. It’s no good comparing things that are so similar that it adds nothing. For example, “The wizard’s wand was like a short, straight stick.” Yes, we know.

Equally, using a comparison that is too contrived or makes no sense will only confuse the reader. “The wizard’s wand was a horizon of wood,” does not enhance clarity, no matter how straight both concepts are.

Similarly, “The wizard’s wand was like about nine used matches laid end on end, carefully glued together,” does nothing to help our mental images of a wand.



Urge them to avoid clichéd metaphors

This is not necessarily as easy as it sounds. Just because you’ve heard something before doesn’t mean that it should be discounted. Perhaps the best thing to do is go back to the OED definition of cliché: “a phrase or idea that has been used so often that it is no longer interesting or effective,” (our italics).

For example, you may well feel that “a blanket of snow” is still effective, even though it has been used extensively. “As good as gold,” on the other hand, is probably a cliché, not least because gold is not obviously connected with goodness. Moreover, a capable writer would probably have found a more interesting adjective than “good” in the first place.

Hopefully, that’s all crystal clear and you’re as keen as mustard to get teaching. Why not investigate our exclusive, member-only collection of creative writing prompts, Write Now!, to kick-start pupils’ imaginations as they put their new skills into practice?

What is a metaphor?

A metaphor is a figure of speech where you say one thing (figuratively) is another thing. There is an implied comparison there, not a literal meaning.

Metaphor examples

  • The English lesson was chaos
  • The new teacher is a giant
  • The pie was stone cold
  • It was the most boring story ever
  • Each person was freezing!

What is a simile?

A simile is a figure of speech used to compare one thing to another.

Simile examples

  • As busy as a bee
  • The poet was as cool as a cucumber
  • It’s like clockwork
  • The student acted like an animal
  • I slept like a log

What is the difference between simile and metaphor?

With a simile you are saying one thing is like another, whereas with metaphor you’re saying that one thing is something else.

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