Williams then compares the left-brain hemisphere to a digital
computer, representing the linear and sequential processing skills
identified with this portion of the brain.
Metaphor is an excellent technique for introducing unfamiliar material.
It is a proven aid to retention and recall. Through the use of metaphor,
students are able to connect new information with something they already
know or have experienced, attaching it to existing "schema" in the mind.
The second essential step in this learning process is what Gordon and
Poze, The Metaphorical Way of Knowing, call "making the familiar
strange." This is where students break known connections in order to
discover something new about what was previously learned. "Breaking
connections" to form new metaphors is an effective way to move from
recall to the higher-order levels of cognitive activity: synthesis,
integration, and evaluation of the learning.
Metaphors also may be used to evaluate students' ability to
comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. Williams suggests
using metaphors in test questions. She offers as an illustration this
question used to evaluate students' understanding of the French
Revolution: "How was the period leading up to the French Revolution like
the building up of a thunderstorm? Be sure to include in your analogy
the major events that led to the revolution." Following a question posed
in terms of a metaphor, students are asked here to demonstrate their
understanding of a concept by creating metaphors of their own.
When planning a lesson around a metaphor, the following steps are
- Decide what is the general principal or concept underlying what you
- Brainstorm possible metaphors, and select the one which best
communicates the concept. Make sure the metaphor is one to which your
students can relate.
- Once you have identified the metaphor, consider its possible
discrepancies (the ways in which it does not fit the concept), so that
you can note and/or clarify those discrepancies as you introduce it to
- Introduce the new lesson or information using the metaphor you have
selected. At the conclusion of the lesson/activity/unit, allow time for
students to generate new, original metaphors that also communicate the
The lessons Vulcan's Vocabulary
and A Place in Time illustrate
the use of metaphor.
Another way to use metaphor in the classroom is to approach it
integratively or thematically. The following steps are suggested by
Donald and Judith Sanders in Learning, February 1987:
- Establish a specific objective for the lesson and the broad concept
to which you will relate it.
- Choose an appropriate metaphor that illustrates the concept.
- Write a guided fantasy or plan an activity that actively involves
your students with the metaphorical image.
- Introduce the lesson using the metaphor you have chosen.
- Read your guided fantasy or engage students in the activity that
allows them to "experience" the metaphor in their imaginations.
- Ask students questions about the experience (What did it feel like?
What did it look like? What feelings did you have? What new
ideas/realizations occurred to you?)
- Tie the metaphorical image to your original lesson goal, such that
students "get the connection": the "A-HA!" moment of creative
recognition or insight.
Guided fantasy or imagery techniques promote both visualization and
relaxation, encouraging students to open "the mind's eye" to an
experience as it is described to them. It is a means of integrating the
rational with the creative mind, freeing the listener from some of the
emotional barriers to learning. It has been shown to be particularly
effective in cases of undue stress, a history of repeated failure,
compulsive perfectionism, and other sources of blocking and anxiety. It
is even credited by some with inhibiting acting-out behaviors and
Like other forms of imagery, guided fantasy helps to make the
abstract familiar, and aids learning and retention by establishing
memorable mental connections. (For an example of this method, see lesson
Evacuation Simulation. This lesson to be on line in the
Learners must often remember unfamiliar words and lists of words that
are not related to their daily lives. Some "tricks" can be used to aid
our memory. These are called mnemonic devices. If you aren't already
using them, try some of the mnemonic devices below to help you remember
vocabulary and lists in A Living Laboratory: Volcanoes.
- Give it a name: "Caldera Rivera," "Basalt Rathbone," Ashley
- Use a simile: "A caldera is like a witches cauldron."
"Basalt flows like ice cream from a volcanic cone." "It looks
like . . . . . .," "It sounds like . . . . . ," etc.
- Use a metaphor that creates a mental picture: "The witch,
Caldera Rivera, stirs a bubbling cauldron of magma."
- Draw a picture to represent it.
- Pair it with a familiar word that rhymes: "You can't throw a
discus that's viscous"
- Create a nonsense acronym:
"The debris avalanche at Mount St. Helens was composed of
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