Teachers Write 6.30.16 Thursday Quick Write with Liz Garton Scanlon

Good morning, campers! It’s Thursday Quick-Write day, and Liz Garton Scanlon is your fabulous guest author. She’s written picture books like ALL THE WORLD and IN THE CANYON as well as the middle grade novel THE GREAT GOOD SUMMER, and today, she’s here to talk metaphors.

Saying More with Metaphors:

Using the Element of Surprise to Say Big Things

Metaphors and similes are such fun, accessible poetic devices to teach, and to use! And not just in poems, either. Literary comparisons allow writers of all stripes to crystallize images and drive home points, to make things even truer and more deeply understood than they previously were. Pretty powerful, huh?

Unfortunately, guess what else they’re good at? Becoming clichéd. Struck me like a bolt of lightning… you’re cute as a button… she’s an angel… I’m blind as a bat! It seems a shame to offer students this handy tool and, at the same time, walk them straight toward a significant pitfall!

The writing exercise offers writers a way to create fresh and wild metaphors, have a few laughs and, sometimes, discover new truths along the way.

Your assignment:

1. Brainstorm a list of emotional or physical states (jealousy, joy, fear, hunger, anger, excitement, worry, confidence, sadness, etc.) Put each word on a little slip of paper and have everyone in the group pick one. (If it’s just you, give yourself a nice choice of words or, better yet, have someone write them for you.)

2. Now, brainstorm a list of both natural and manmade objects (pillow, rock, waterfall, TV, table, blender, forest fire, river, puddle, book, bar of soap, etc.) Put each word on a little slip of paper and have everyone in the group pick one.

3. Each writer sets up their forced simile at the top of his or her page: Sadness is like a forest fire, jealousy is like a rock, worry is like a blender….

4. Now, take a few moments to make this TRUE. At first, many writers will say, “Nope. Impossible. Mine don’t go together.” But I like to compare this process to making a Venn diagram. The things you’re comparing don’t have to be identical – they just need to overlap a tiny bit! So, simply ask yourself, “What details do these things have in common?” That’s what will make this true! 


5. For example: Jealousy is like a rock. They’re both really hard things. They’re heavy so they’re hard to move out of the way. Some people think they’re ugly. OR: Worry is like a blender. It just goes round and round and round and chops up perfectly good ideas and good days.

6. After doing one round, mix up the papers and try it again. Before long you’ve revealed the endless opportunities for fresh and surprising and meaningful metaphors. Enjoy! And feel free to share one of your newly discovered metaphors in the comments if you’d like!

152 Replies on “Teachers Write 6.30.16 Thursday Quick Write with Liz Garton Scanlon

  1. Thank you for this exercise.
    Being grateful is like an oven. You feel warm inside and out and it spreads to those around you.
    I feel weak like a pencil sharpener after a line of third graders have ground their pencils down to nubs.
    Being nervous is like being a cloud. You are just hanging suspended and waiting to be blown in one direction or another.

  2. Interesting exercise and great commentary on figurative language! My first combination was hunger is like a forest fire: it builds, spreads, rages on, and is eventually put out. Then I tried the same word with other objects. Hunger is like a rock in your shoe: it pokes at you until you can’t take it anymore and you have to stop to deal with it. I’m having a harder time with hunger is like a pillow, but I’m interested in seeing what comes to me later.

  3. Good morning Liz,
    I love this exercise and I cannot wait to use it with my students.
    Here are a few of the ones I came up with this morning:
    Jealousy is like a pool: you swim in it all day but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
    Fear is like a pillow, cold on the other side, luring you into the dark of night.
    Anger is like the ocean: you don’t want to be the one caught when the tide comes back in.
    Worry is like a blender, it churns inside creating a frothy mess.
    Confidence is like pottery. You mold and form it carefully building a product that will last.

    Happy writing!

  4. Such a fun, dynamic exercise! Here’s my first attempt:
    Sorrow is like a house. It rises from its foundation conforming to a unique internal blueprint. Like a house, sorrow has many rooms. Some have windows looking out into the world, and visitors may join us there. Other rooms, deeper in the house, are more private retreats. We linger there, alone, inviting few, if any, to join us. Some rooms remain locked, avoided and unexplored.
    Beware of making the house of sorrow your home.

    I’m excited to go back and play with this some more when time allows. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Joy is like the ocean
    ebb and flow
    2) wonder is like a rock
    awaiting our discovery
    3) grief is like sand
    gritty in my shoe
    reminding me of
    its presence
    4) happiness is like compost
    warming, changing, enriching.

    1. What a strong image I got from your grief simile. That one really resonated with me!

  6. Good morning, Liz and campers!

    Thanks for this great little activity. I will be using it with my students. Here is one of mine from this morning:

    Sorrow is like a brown piece of grass, stark and brittle. Both can be broken easily and both need the love of a mother to survive.

    This will go along with an activity that I already do with my sixth graders.
    (Emotion) is … (a color)
    It sounds like …
    It tastes like …
    It smell like …
    Emotion feels like …

    Thank you again.
    Happy writing!

  7. Despair is like a stick, hard and pointy
    Silly is like a window open and free
    Hope is like a rock always solid always there
    Joy is like a door waiting to be opened
    Triumph is like a tree standing tall and proud
    Amazing activity. Can’t wait to use it with my 5th grade writers. Thank you so much!

  8. This is such a fun activity. I can see students getting really excited about participating in an activity like this. Here’s one I came up with: Caroline’s morning sickness was like a thundercloud. It hovered, threatening. She never knew when her nausea would strike.

  9. I am having so much fun doing this activity with my family. I will certainly be using this during the school year. My son just said: Happiness is like a rainbow. You want everyone else to share it with you.

  10. LOVE this idea and will definitely try this with my third graders.
    My first match love-guitar.
    A guitar is love. Both can play beautiful music and make us better. We feel better, we enjoy life more, they make us feel more- sometimes sad, but often happy. Both a guitar and love need another- without a person they are not complete.
    This also reminded me of my son’s grade 10 personal project where he built his own electric guitar. It took lots of time (and love) and to this day, more than 7 years later, it is the guitar he uses.

  11. Just opened this email and I can’t wait to get to this assignment. I love metaphor! Just yesterday, I told my daughter she used punctuation like a rabid monkey slinging poop (ok, so that’s a smile, but I breathe weird comparisons).

  12. Thanks for this idea.
    Fear of failure is like a single weed that reproduces and tangles and hides the sweet raspberries in the garden.

  13. Here is my attempt. I love the idea of this for myself and my students.
    Friendship is like a bag, there is room to fill it full
    Courage is like a car, it drives you forward when you want to stay parked
    Patience is like a voice that speaks slow and softly.
    Hope is like a veil, it hides the unexpected

  14. Love this activity! I haven’t written my own yet because I have 50 pages left in the book I\’m reading, and my OCD won\’t let me stop 🙂

    I did however run into this beautiful sentence inside its pages!

    “Her voice was soft, but not like a pillow. Like a pile of fine metal shavings or powdered glass.”
    Jeff Zentner, The Serpent King
    (YA novel)

  15. So fun! I’m working with these:
    Fear is like an old sofa. It’s familiar and comfortable. You sink into well-worn spots and stay there.
    Anxiety is like the ocean, vast and deceptively deep.
    Anger is like a book – hard and unyielding. We leaf through our grievances like a favorite old story, justifying and entrenching our anger.
    Depression is like a chicken, peck-peck-pecking away at your well-being and sense of self.

  16. What a great activity. It really got the gears in my head turning. Here’s my attempt: Anxiety is like a bouquet. You may feel wrapped up in it by ribbons and pins, but if you search deeper inside yourself, you can look up to see the beauty of it through the blossoming flowers.

  17. Great idea!
    Worry is like a river. It runs on and on and never tires even though the depth may change.
    Fear is like the wind in a tree. It ruffles every leaf and penetrates your whole being.
    Heat is like a meadow with the sun beating it down all day.
    It strikes me that some of these might make a better simile.

  18. Hi!

    This was a very interesting exercise! I love words, and having to find connections between the randomly combined was a challenge!

    Here are the ones I came up with:

    Isolation – Leaf
    Isolation, self our outer imposed, is like the broken off, still green leaf that gets blown away by the wind, much too far from home and struggles with choice: do I make it on my own and value my own company enough to stay; or do I take on the horrifying odds to make it back, no matter the cost and time, to be with my leaf brothers and sisters?

    Worthiness – Piggy Bank

    Worthiness is like a piggy bank, you grow in value the more you deposit in self and others. It needn’t be just the big value coins all the time, but it must be constant in order to grow.

    Elation – Home

    Elation is like home, not a house, but the people, feelings, work, play, heartache and endurance you experience within it. Elation, the high spirits that take over your heart when you finally make it home, the place you are always happy even when sad is going on. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if elation = home no matter where we set foot?

    Loss – Garbage Truck

    Loss is like a garbage truck. It takes your things away from you, and it is final. There is no possibility of ever having it returned or found. Loss ruins a piece of your life, just like the garbage truck compactor crushes and deforms the things it took away from you.

    Mirth – Dandelions

    Mirth is like a dandelion full of glee, dancing in the wind, wild and free. Mirth is like dandelion seeds blown away by a child, one wish for each. Mirth is like a dandelion, it is not a weed, but a salve, healing our soul.

  19. This was challenging but such and interesting experience. Definitely going to try this with my new class of 5th graders in September.
    Exhaustion is like a puppy. You feel like collapsing in a comfortable place as your muscles let go and let go of the tension. Sometimes you want someone to notice you even though you often try to tune out all the noises around you.
    Lonely is like a banana. You feel like you are abandoned when separated, resulting in bruising of your skin that feels like it has been peeled away. Torn between feeling trapped in your own skin and wanting to escape.

      1. Having 2 puppies I relate to that one too, although never would have paired them together.

  20. Great activity. My contribution is probably a reflection of my attempts to implement a healthier lifestyle.
    Hunger is like soap, add enough water and it disappears.

  21. I love this! It’s hard, and that’s a really good thing. Usually I’m pretty happy with the work I come up with for Teachers Write activities — not this one! But that’s good; it puts me in a similar spot to where my students will be when they’re writing.

    My two:

    Agitation is like a pier. Being on the edge of the water is like being on the edge of comfort.

    Anxiety is a grill. The intense heat leaves marks if you’re not careful.

  22. Thanks so much for hosting me today — and to all of you writing-teachers, thanks for giving this exercise a whirl! I love what you’ve come up with. And I only had to re-do the Captcha Math for three comments — that’s my higher math for the summer! 😉 Enjoy writers — and thanks again for connecting here!

  23. Great activity! I dislike cliches and am always struggling to come up with original comparisons when I write. Here’s one of mine from today’s assignment: Fear is a spoon stirring up a poisonous stew.

  24. This is such a wonderful exercise I can’t wait to try it with my students. And I’m thinking for the younger ones we could use the actual physical objects and have them then pick one of them and then put it with an emotion. Thanks for doing this for us.

    1. Love the idea of actual objects. That would work well with English learners, too.

      1. Yes! Using actual objects would turn the activity kinesthetic as well as turning it into a great writing makerspace choice. Love this twist on a fantastic writing exercise.

        I haven’t tried the exercise yet, but there’s a candle in front of me, and I’m feeling joy so…

        Joy is a candle filling its corner of the world with a warm glow.

  25. Thanks, Liz, for this great exercise!! Love the kinesthetics of it, and I think my middle schoolers would, too. I asked my sons to help me generate a list of objects, made the cards, shuffled each pile and matched them randomly. I chose to write on the pairings that surprised me the most. Here’s an abbreviated version:

    Anger is a pair of glasses that puts into sharp focus each transgression, each imperfection.

    Joy is like dirt. Almost everything you need to grow is there.

    Sadness is a chicken, a broody hen that stays close to her sorrows (sometimes in secret), guards them, grows them, even attacks those who might come too close.

    And for this last one…. need I mention that the son who contributed this “object” is an incoming 6th grader? I almost hesitate to share, except for the fact that the comparisons just kept coming. Besides, you all work with kids. No judging, right?

    Fear is like a fart that starts from within in and builds up pressure until it has to be released. Sometimes it can be contained until a more convenient moment, but other times it slips out before you even realize it was there. If you’re lucky, no one else notices, but most of the time fear truly does have a smell, and you’re fooling yourself if you think no one can trace it back to you.

  26. This is a great exercise! I found the Venn diagram to be especially helpful.

    Jealousy is like an old leather shoe. Brittle, cracked and of little use to its owner.

    Happiness is like a driveway. Strong, concrete with a few bumps and twists thrown in, bringing you back home.

  27. Such a fun exercise–thank you! I’ve really enjoyed reading what other teacher/writers have written above!
    Here are my attempts:
    Excitement is like a lamp…it spreads heat and hope with a pulse of electricity that shines through the wearer.
    Love is like a crayon…it appears easily in the hands of a child, but often more complicated in those an adult.
    Hope in like a pinecone…it opens to the heart with a promise of something new.

    Ah, well. Made some good connections for my WIP!

    1. I like your similes. They are so hopeful! Especially the Love is like a crayon one. Why do we let ourselves get like that?

  28. Here are some of my favorites:
    Fear is like a puddle because they both can be deeper than they appear.
    Enthusiasm is like a fireplace because it needs some spark to get it going.
    Pain is like a bag because if you never empty it, it just gets heavier and heavier.
    Caring is like a blind because when you are caring, the world is a brighter place.
    Worry is like a pillow because if it’s too full, it will burst and the feathers will fly everywhere.

  29. Wow! This is a wonderful exercise that I am definitely going to use with my students. Using random generators to come up with my word lists and then a number picker to put together my forced simile, I pulled the words “depression” and “oil” – Here’s what I wrote: Her depression was like a patch of oil on the garage floor, lying unnoticed until someone stepped in it and spread it further around, messing up perfectly clean carpets, clothes, and shoes.

  30. What a great lesson idea! I can see so many ways to use it cooperatively to scaffold to individual work if needed, and it definitely meets the critical thinking part of the evaluation. Better- it was fun!

    My favorite one from the activity:
    Sadness is sitting alone in an empty hospital chapel, crying and whispering prayers that feel like they never make it further than the stained glass.

    Most challenging:
    Disgust is cold, soggy French toast made with stale ingredients when you were hoping for a fresh, crisp Belgian Waffle.

  31. My 6 and 9 year olds loved helping me come up with the words for this one!
    1. Distress is like a house. I can cover you and isolate you from the rest of the world.
    2. Hunger is like squash (the plant). The vines can reach anywhere and everywhere. You can never tell who it could affect.

  32. Here are 3:
    Hunger is like a cup; empty, stiff, waiting to be filled. Half empty? Half full? Doesn’t matter, only empty is a problem.

    Excitement is like a broom. Excitement sweeps you along like a broom sweeps the crumbs. You can’t guide yourself when you are excited; the excitement guides you, propelled you, sweeps you away.

    Joy is like a doorknob. Joy is the point of access to new things. Joy opens the door to new opportunities, new people, new places.

  33. Thanks Liz, I struggle not to use shoe worn metaphors. My favorites:
    As angry as a pebble, trapped in your shoe and jabbing you at every step.
    Anxious as the tight pinching wires of your braces.

  34. This was a great activity. My students will enjoy working on this in groups and on their own.

    Anxiety is like a tea cup, it holds a boiling liquid until it cracks.

    Jealousy is like toothpaste once it comes out it can’t go back in.

  35. I love this assignment! I will definitely be sharing this with the teachers at my school. Here are a few of my attempts:

    –Worry is like a mountain. It weighs heavy on your mind.
    –Happiness is like a broom. It sweeps away all the bad stuff that has been accumulating in your heart.
    –Anger is like a rock. It hurts when you throw it at someone.

    But then I had a few stumpers. I couldn’t think of anything for these:

    –Pain is like a ball.
    –Fear is like a notebook.

    Perhaps someone else can make a connection.

    1. Sharyl, the imagery of a broom sweeping away the bad stuff to create happiness is a strong visual.
      Thanks for sharing your unfinished pairs, too. Here’s what came to my mind:

      Pain is a ball ricocheting off the walls of my brain.
      Fear is a notebook, its blank pages mocking me relentlessly, one after another, telling me I’m not worthy of its pages.

  36. I loved doing this activity and can’t wait to use it with students! Here are examples that I created:
    Gossip is like a hot potato that burns your mouth.
    Contentment is like a marshmallow. It’s soft and fluffy and makes you feel good inside.
    Exhaustion is like a radio that plays the same song over and over.
    Jealousy grinds like a dentist’s drill that wears you down until nothing is left.

  37. These two seemed made for each other as a pair! I really enjoyed the thinking that went into this writing activity.

    Hopelessness is like a blanket…it enshrouds you, consuming your entire being, insulating and separating you from the rest of the world.

    Hope is like a garden…full of beginnings, possibility, renewal, and nourishment. Unwavering positivity despite the challenges to survive.

  38. Thank you! I added this exercise to a Google Doc with a list of 40 states/objects that can be plugged into an online randomizer. If anyone has a better one, please let me know! https://goo.gl/LtZ9CL

    An excerpt from my writing:
    Worry is like comfortable shoes: safe, familiar, and a wasted opportunity for greatness. It’s hard to untie and abandon in favor of a feeling less broken in, a feeling like adventurousness, boldness, and spontaneity. It is planned and cushioned–protection from what the world has to offer. Maybe its best to kick off the comfortable shoes and go barefoot, risk the occasional abrasion or stub, and become calloused to fear. Live in barefoot resilience.

  39. This was an amazing activity!
    Fear is like a water fall because it is loud, powerful, and breathtaking, but behind it all is erosion and and danger.
    Confidence is a river which can forge new channels. It is powerful and, and as much as humans try to control it, will determine its own course over time.
    Sadness is a puddle–a temporary response to a deluge, but, with the right mindset, can be considered an opportunity to view the rainbow that is in the horizon

  40. I love this activity. In pushing my personal craft deeper, I’d especially been targeting gestures that reveal emotion. Too often, these do fall into hackneyed descriptions: the character looked, they smiled, something else with the eyes, the mouth again… I have a couple mentor-text authors I observe when looking at things like this, and realized how often they create these emotions with extended metaphors by quick layers noticing something in the distance, something in nature, something mundane in the room. It was exactly this kind of play with words that helps get beyond expected metaphors or similes.

    I’m going to use this tomorrow with my sons. With the excuse of them helping me build my metaphors for the novel they know I’m working on, I can work in a bit of writing practice for them, too. They are reading Crossover, so we can connect it to poetry, while I keep going on revising my book. Thanks for a great activity. I look forward to using it with students in the future as well (saved the post to Pinterest so I won’t forget it).

  41. Love the mind-stretching possibilities in this task. Reminds me of William Burroughs and his cut-up writing… http://www.openculture.com/2011/08/william_s_burroughs_on_the_art_of_cutup_writing.html
    Since it’s late, I short-cutted the task thanks to two word generators! I conjured five feelings with this one (http://juliahwest.com/prompts/emotion_random.html), then five nouns with this one (http://www.desiquintans.com/articles/noungenerator.php), and lined them up in the order of generation. Totally trying with students 🙂

    Here are my three favorite figurative bits:

    Hopelessness is like a footstool, a low place to rest, of seeming comfort, from which it’s difficult to get up.

    Annoyance is like a metronome, ticking its nigglingly incessant beats.

    Humility is like a gauntlet, invincible, yet invisible.

  42. Sharyl, the imagery of a broom sweeping away the bad stuff to create happiness is a strong visual.
    Thanks for sharing your unfinished pairs, too. Here’s what came to my mind:

    Pain is a ball ricocheting off the walls of my brain.
    Fear is a notebook, its blank pages mocking me relentlessly, one after another, telling me I’m not worthy of its pages.

  43. Thank you for this wonderful activity! Admittedly, I struggled (probably because I’m doing what I do best…overthinking!), but I do plan to revisit this activity throughout the summer to keep practicing 🙂
    Here are two that I worked on today:
    1. Lonely is like a volcano…standing alone, isolated. Does it stay dormant, quiet? Does it smolder, breeding unhappiness. Resigned with how things are. Or does it explode, providing relief but also forever changing what is?
    2. Anxious is like the Northern Lights (fitting since I am from Alaska and worry all the time)…dancing butterflies bursting through in a colorful display to show delight in the unimaginable.
    Anxious is like the Northern Lights…a colorful array of hope brightening the way out of the darkness of uncertainty.
    Although I am a bit uneasy about sharing, I have committed myself to putting myself out there and building my confidence. A BIG thank you to everyone for sharing, it helps make feel safe and more willing to take risks.
    I can’t wait to do this activity with my daughters, as well!

    1. I really like that volcano imagery — it’s lovely. And it is true that over-thinking can kind of stymie you in this exercise. You sort of have to be willing to throw yourself open to a place of absurdity or ridiculousness. You never know what you’ll get!! Thanks for playing along!

  44. Just another note to say thanks again for jumping in with my metaphor prompt yesterday — and I’m really excited to know that so many of you plan to share this with your students! Thanks for doing what you do — you all are my heros!

  45. This was great! I brought mine to social media – I asked my friends to list emotions and objects in the comments; I listed them in my notebook and chose a few by random. My favorite outcome: Joy is a Q-tip; it cushions and cleanses your insides while absorbing the ugliness from within

  46. I wracked my brain comparing things all day- happiness is like my BFF’s pool? Boring! Then, last evening Colton said, “The bees in The Swarm movie are as big as a Qdoba burrito.” Boom! Just what I needed 🙂

  47. Hello everybody,
    I know I’m late to posting for this quick write, but I promised myself to be a more active participant, ie. share and post often, but I was really stumped on this one! I did the brainstorming and what I came up with for comparisons was less than stellar. In fact, for some comparisons I just couldn’t say anything. So, I decided to just write them in my notebook as they came up and see if any of them worked for me. So, here are three – two that I think sort of worked and one that really bombed, but I thought I’d include it anyway.
    (1) Pride is like a river. They are potentially endless. They are the source of happiness and good feelings.
    (2) Being worried is like a knife. They can both cut you to the quick and zap you of any energy to carry out necessary or desired functions. They are both sharp-edged and can divert attention to the wrong things, if we’re not careful.
    (3) Being happy is like a mountain. They can both take you to high places and experiences that you’d never thought possible. They are not endless even if it may seem that way. Eventually, you need to climb down from the high peaks to flat ground.

  48. I had saved this activity to do with some friends, but getting together fell through. So here is what I did on my own.

    Surprise is like a seashell, you never know when one will wash up on your beach.

    Rejection is like a shed, you hide it away from view in the backyard where it fills up with unwanted stuff, rotting away.

    For my husband, in honor of our list of summer chores:

    Chores are like tissues, each time you pull one out, another one pops up in its place.

  49. I loved that this exercise is spontaneous and flexible. It requires a lot of thought, but the Venn diagram helped to scaffold that. By the end of the exercise, I was really proud of the creative responses I wrote:

    Hunger is like a cat on the prowl. It sees through the darkness and attacks what is vulnerable.

    Excitement is like a paintbrush loaded with color. It waits to be released and to run free.

    Pain is like a boulder. It can be immovable alone, but with help of others it can be lifted.

    Shock is like a sewing machine with bad tension. It takes time to unravel.