Pedagogical Moments: Metaphor

In the land beside the sea, the Great Teacher taught the multitudes. In His teaching he used stories, he asked questions and demonstrated with objects. He was also a Master of metaphor or comparison.

He said, “Men do not light a candle and put it under a cover, but on a candlestick and it sheds light to all the house. Likewise, let your light shine before men that they may glorify your Father in Heaven.”

He warned, “Beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but really are ravening wolves.”

He exhorted, “Those who hear my teachings and follow them are like a house built on a rock.”

He entreated, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hid in a field. It is like a merchant seeking for good pearls and it is like a net thrown into the sea and filled.”

He stated, “I am the good shepherd. I am the true vine. I am the bread of life. I am the living water. I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

He taught, “A sower went forth to sow. And as he sowed some seed fell by the wayside, some seed in stony places, some among thorns, and some on good ground.”

Metaphor simplifies

A good teacher learns to use metaphor or comparisons to simplify concepts and lessons. Metaphors are comparisons of a new idea with something already understood. Metaphors recall the experiences of the known and place them upon the new concept. Metaphors also help facts and concepts be retrieved from the brain.

Metaphors give us mental pictures that make connections what cannot be readily put into words. I remember a co-teacher once describing her students as a team of spirited horses. When the teacher had control of the reins, good things were accomplished. But the team was always at the point of wanting to take off on their own and the teacher needed a steady hand on the reins. This mental picture expressed much in a less critical manner than a bold statement would have.

Metaphors are especially helpful in teaching young children who do not yet have the language capacity to express themselves fully. If you listen to young children, you will find them creating their own metaphors when they don’t know how to explain what they need.

Examples of metaphor

Metaphors give us hooks to hang things on for easier retrieval. Many memory aids are a type of metaphor. Understanding that the silent “e” a the end of a word gives the main vowel the long sound (all abstract ideas) is more readily remembered with the idea of Mr. E having a long arm that reaches over the neighboring consonant and taps the vowel, reminding it to say, “__”. Young students enjoy the visual image and the metaphor sticks in their brains.

A common kindergarten or first grade penmanship metaphor is comparing the various penmanship lines to a house: basement, floor, ceiling, roof. Placement of the letters is reinforced by the metaphor. Students enjoy stomping through the floor to the basement when they write g, j, p, q, or y. Lower-case f is so tall that he must bend his head because he can’t stick it out the roof.

A classroom management metaphor could be a basketball game. There are rules to follow. The players (students) must know and understand the rules. The coach (teacher) explains and demonstrates how the game is played. The players practice until they can execute the rules. The referee (teacher) calls the infractions as they see them.

Young students walking down the hall as a line of little ducks or as quietly as a mouse is much more fun and interesting than simply walking in a straight line and not talking.

An imaginative teacher will find metaphors in their everyday lessons to help students understand, remember, and learn. Students can also learn to find metaphors to aid their learning.

The Great Teacher taught with authority and not as the leading teachers of His day. He made use of stories and metaphors. He asked probing questions and illustrated his teachings with objects. Those listening to Him recognized the truth He taught and were amazed. Some acknowledged Him and some turned away. The choice was theirs, but this Master Teacher made His truth plain by the way He taught.

Photo by Henri Guérin on Unsplash.

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