Linking Prior Knowledge and New Content with Metaphors


In science we use metaphors constantly. We talk about selfish genes, cells as cities, and ping pong balls moving through sugar.

In my first year of teaching, I went into an elaborate metaphor of atoms scattering like bowling pins. After I was done, and feeling very pleased with myself, a girl raised her hand and asked, “Mr. Buell, what’s bowling?” After polling the class, only five students even knew what bowling was and only two of those had ever gone.

Rick Wormeli says that metaphors are a way to help students make meaning by bridging from something they already know to something new. I had built a bridge both to and from nowhere.

In Rick Wormeli’s #ASCD12 session, “Metaphors and Analogies: Power Tools For Teaching Any Subject” I found a nice routine to help prevent this kind of mistake—it’s called 4-Square Synectics. I plan to use this with my class toward the end of units.

(I’m going to make a few adjustments. Because I’m using it for a unit, I’d like a larger list of words.)

For writing the analogies, I’m going to use a sentence frame Rick Wormeli showed in an earlier slide:

Students will also have a second sentence frame:

 “_____________ is (are) NOT_______________________ because______.”

(I added this second frame to help students focus both on similarities and differences.)

As a class, we’ll brainstorm the list of words. After generating the list, students will alternate between using the ‘is’ and the ‘is not’ frame. As we become more adept, we will add “except” to the last part of the sentence frame so that now students will justify their choice of metaphor and point out the limitations in the metaphor.

What are some ways you use metaphors in your class?

Wormeli’s session available as part of ASCD’s 2012 Virtual Conference—free to all who attended ASCD’s 2012 Annual Conference—and available for purchase for those who did not.