Figurative Language Therapy

Figurative Language Therapy: This webpage demonstrates a typical language intervention session with a 13 year old boy with language impairment. The language area the clinician has targeted for this session is figurative language.

To have at least an understanding of figurative language becomes increasingly important as a child transitions from primary to secondary school.

Generally students with language impairment - in this transition period - have difficulty with reading and/or reading comprehension. Consequently they may not have had the same exposure to non-literal forms of written language that their peers have had. (Paul, 2001)

Because of their lack of exposure to non-literal forms of language, figurative language needs to be explicitly taught to children with language difficulty.

And, importantly, many fiction and non-fiction books for children and adolescents consistently use figurative language forms, such as simile and metaphor. So it is a form of language that students will encounter again and again in text, as they move through the school years.

Teaching Simile and Metaphor

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The goal of this particular webpage is to demonstrate real, authentic language intervention techniques that focuses on teaching simile and metaphor to a language impaired child.

The goal is for you - whether you be a speech-language pathologist or teacher - to have confidence enough to try this type of language intervention on your own students.

The language intervention method chosen is based on communicative reading strategies (Norris, 1991), as outlined and explained in Kathryn DeKemel's book, Intervention in Language Arts. Another book worth reading about text-based intervention is Geraldine Wallach's , Language Intervention for School-Age Students.

Communicative Reading Strategies

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To acquaint yourself with communicative reading strategies as a language intervention method I recommend you access the shared reading page and associated links. This will give you a brief but thorough background and foundation on the theory of communicative reading strategies.

Also, if you're up for an extra bit of reading please access the figurative language, similes and metaphor webpages to learn more about non-literal forms of language.

Language Intervention - Background

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Background Information: Alex (name and situation changed) is a 13 year old boy who has moderate language impairment, in both receptive and expressive language. Alex was identified as having learning difficulties several years previous in primary (elementary) school.

Alex has been on a modified curriculum program at his school, as he struggles with classroom discourse and written and oral language activities.

Alex has reasonable fluency when reading, but his ability to inference and understand figurative language in text is poor.

Figurative Language Goals

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Objective: Alex will identify simile in text from a children's storybook, and manipluate the simile into other figurative language (metaphor) forms.

Learning Approach: Communicative reading strategies and language stimulation techniques.

Materials: Storybooks, reference books, graphic organizers.

Rating System: Figurative Language Scoring Chart

Resource Download

Therapy Goals Worksheet
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Book Selection

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Selecting the right book for language intervention is an important process. It's critical that the book chosen for therapy is at the right level of complexity for the student. If the books's too difficult to understand the child may flounder; if the book's too easy, the student will learn very little.

The Fry readability graph is a useful tool for selecting books, based on grade level. But, perhaps the most important method of book selection is to have your student read to you from a book from their grade level and note the number of miscues.

Then ask the student a series of comprehension questions to determine how well they understood the story and its themes.

Selected Book

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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, 2006.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Author: Kate DiCamillo , Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline.
Published 2006, Candlewick Press
ISBN: 0-7445-2353-2

Fry Readability Graph Rating: Grade 6 level text.

A miscue reading analysis of the text revealed that Alex could read the text adequately. Some of the words were difficult to decode, mainly because Alex had never come across them before, but most of the text was decoded without difficulty.

Subsequent questioning demonstrated quite clearly that Alex had difficulty understanding many of the key passages in the text. The clinician and Alex had spent several previous sessions working on story grammar elements and inference. Alex's understanding of the themes was improved, but his ability to understand figurative language in the text was poor.

The story of Edward Tulane was selected as a language teaching tool because it is well constructed story that features excellent story grammar principles. The Edward Tulane book also has some striking imagery embedded in the text, which often uses figurative language to help communicate those images.

Other Therapy Materials

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Graphic Organizers: key information expanding worksheets. The worksheets pictured here are all available as adobe downloads on this page.

The graphic organizers are designed to improve your students' understanding of inferencing concepts by providing a visual outline of how inferencing can be analyzed.

Dictionary and Thesaurus: New or difficult words, and their definitions, are explored in a dictionary, while synonyms for newly learnt words are probed via a thesaurus.

The use of a dictionary and thesaurus is an important aspect of communicative reading strategies.

Brief Story Synopsis

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The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is the story of a toy rabbit who gets separated from his owner and goes on an odyssey across the United States. The story is set sometime in the 1930's or 40's. Edward is a beautifully crafted porcelain rabbit who is self aware. However, unlike the toys from the movie Toy Story, Edward cannot interact fully with his environment.

Edward begins the story as a much loved and pampered toy. His owner is Abilene, a young girl who is clearly from a wealthy family. In a key chapter near the beginning of the story, Abilene's grandmother, Pellegrina, narrates the story of a princess who was young and beautiful, but cared nothing for love. Pellegrina asserts that though the princess was loved by all, she didn't deserve such devotion.

Pellegrina infers that Edward, though he is a toy, is much like the princess in the story in that he is beautiful but spoilt, and cares for none but himself. Edward's subsequent journey is about him learning to love, but also deal with loss, and opening his heart to others.

Language Intervention Session - Figurative Language Maps

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Figurative Language Maps are the core language teaching tool for this particular session. A figurative language map is a useful visual aid in that it provides a graphic representation of how similes and metaphors are analyzed in text.

Resource Download

Figurative Language Worksheet
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Figurative Language Worksheet Example
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

The Story is Read Together

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The session begins with both Alex and the clinician reading part of the story. The Edward Tulane story is a chapter book and is too long a text to be read in one 40 minute session. The clinician reads a short synopsis of the story and does some work on the background of the story. (preparatory set)

Clinician: 'The first three chapters have been describing Edward and Abilene and what Edward's thoughts and routines are. We know he's a very proud sort of rabbit who thinks he's something special. And he is loved by Abilene, who spoils him rotten.'

Clinician: 'We also know that Edward and Abilene are soon to go on a trip overseas on a big ship. Let's read chapter four together. The chapter's mostly about a story which Pellegrina tells to Abilene and Edward.'

Chapter four is read alternately by both the clinician and Alex. In chapter four, Pellegrina narrates the story of a beautiful princess who cared lttle for others. During the telling of the story, Pellegrina stares meaningfully at Edward, and Edward feels 'a shiver go through him.'

Target Passage from 'Edward Tulane'

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'Once there was a princess who was very beautiful. She shone as bright as a star on a moonless night. But what difference did it make that she beautiful? None. No difference.''

Excerpt from 'The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,' by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.

Language Intervention Session

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The figurative language maps are the core language teaching tool for this session. A figurative language map is a useful visual aid in that it provides a breakdown of how figurative language is constructed.

Figurative language refers to words and sayings that go beyond the literal meanings and alters words to add extra layers of meaning. The figurative language maps dissect a target figurative language phrase into two separate, parts.

The goal is to see that figurative language combines two common images we are familiar with and combines the images with a type of fusion to create something much different.

The figurative language worksheet and example worksheet are presented to Alex. The clinician gives a brief description of what the maps are for (refer to section above) and how they are to be used.

Question to Gauge Student's Understanding

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Clinician: 'The princess in the story was very beautiful. Pellegrina describes her as "she shone as bright as a star on a moonless night." She shone as bright as a star on a moonless night is a simile. Do you know what a simile is Alex?'

Alex: 'No idea.'

Clinician: 'That's ok. We're going to learn about similes today. Similes are a type of language, called figurative language. I'd like you to read this definition of simile (clinician passes Alex a definition sheet) and tell me what you think.'

Resource Download

Figurative Language Definition Sheet
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Clinician: 'Read the definition for simile Alex. In a big clear voice please.'

Alex reads the defintion out loud.

Alex: 'Simile: a statement that one thing is like another. Similes use the words like and as to combine ideas.'

Figurative Language Map - Top Circle

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Clinician: 'So, similes use as and like to link ideas together. If you look at the simile in the story it uses some of that language. Which words does the passage use to help us identify it as a simile?'

Alex remains silent. He may not have understood the request, so the clinician rephrases the question.

Clinician: 'Does the passage feature the simile like or as?'

Alex scans the text.

Alex:'It says "as bright as." It must be as.'

Clinician: 'I agree. What I'd like you to do is write that simile "she shone as bright as a star on a moonless night," in the top circle of the figurative language map.'

Alex writes the target passage into the top circle of the map.

Filling in Information Boxes - Left Circle

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Clinician: 'The thing which is amazing about similes is that they combine two unrelated images into the same image. For instance, it says here (the clinician points with his finger at the text) that the princess shone like a star. What do we know about stars in the night sky?'

Alex: 'They're shiny and they're in the sky.'

Clinician: 'During the day?'

Alex: (frowns) 'No, at night.'

Clinician: 'Right. Stars shine at night, and they can be very bright. And on a moonless night they would be even...' (cloze activity)

Alex says nothing.

Clinician:'On a night with no moon, is it hard to see in the dark?'

Alex: 'Yeah, it's really dark. You can't see much. I have to use a torch outside.'

Clinician:'I know. It's very dark on a moonless night. And because it's so dark the stars shine...'

Alex: (hesitates) 'The stars shine much brighter?'

Clinician:'Exactly. The stars shine much brighter on a moonless night. So how much does this princess shine if she shines like a star on a moonless night?'

Alex: 'She must be very shiny.'

Clinician: 'Ok, write into the second box down, on the left, the heading star, and what we just said about the moonless night. Use the example sheet to help you if needed.'

Alex writes the factual information about a star shining at night into the left hand box headed: Information: literal/factual.

Filling in Information Boxes - Right Circle

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Clinician: 'Fantastic, that gives us one half of the factual info about this simile. We now are going to talk about the other half. We know the princess is very beautiful. How do you think she might look?'

Alex: 'I think she must have a nice face, she's good looking and dresses nice.'

Clinician: 'Yeah, I'm happy with that. Write what you just said into the spare box on the right.'

Alex writes the information about the princess into the right hand box headed: Information: literal/factual.

Similarities and Differences and Fusion Circles

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Clinician: 'We now have to outline similarities and differences. That means we have to outline the things that are different about the two separate images of the stars and princess. What are the differences?'

Alex: 'I know. The star is up in the sky and shines at night and the princess is a person.'

Clinician: 'That's right. How are they similar?'

Alex: 'I'm not sure...'

Clinician: 'Ok, this is important. The star at night shines brightly, but because the princess is so beautiful, it's like she shines also. Very beautiful looking people, like people you might see in a magazine, are very beautiful to look at. It could even be said they shine like stars.'

Clinician: 'What I think the author is saying in this simile, about the princess, is that although the princess is bright and beautiful, and a little bit shiny, she may not be a very nice person.'

Clinician: 'Read the passage again, slowly, and then tell me what you think about the simile of the princess.'

Alex reads the passage and says...

Alex: 'They're both similar because the stars at night and the princess are both shiny.'

Clinician: 'Yes they both shine, but in different ways. The star glitters at night and the princess is bright and beautiful. So they're kind of the same. Write that into the language fusion circle.'


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The clinician concludes the therapy session by summarizing the key points and reviewing the concepts that Alex learnt during the session.

Clinician: 'We learnt a little today about figurative language, and one of the more common forms: similes. We used the figurative language map and example map to help us break down and analyze a simile from the story of 'Edward Tulane.'

Clinician: 'We also learnt that the passage "She shone as bright as a star on a moonless night," is a simile because it uses the term as, and that it combines two different images of a star and a beautiful princess to form something new.'

Clinician: 'We discussed the similarities and differences of the two different images and you wrote those differences into the appropriate circles on the figurative language map.'

Language Intervention Conclusion and Scoring Chart

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Resource Download

Figurative Language Scoring Chart
Right-click to download this PDF file here.

The above language therapy session is an accurate portrayal of a typical text-based language intervention session with a 13 year old boy. The session took just over 35 minutes.

The first goal of the session, that Alex would identify simile from a text was completed but time prevented the clinician from completing the second goal of manipulating the simile into other figurative language forms - for instance, metaphor.

The quote, "She shone as bright as a star on a moonless night," is entered onto the scoring chart. The clinician scored Alex's knowledge level as 1. Alex has had only minimal exposure to figurative language forms and will require several more sessions to fully grasp the material.

Language Intervention - Next Session

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The next session with Alex will consist of the following goals:

Goal 1: Revise the concept of simile and figurative language.

Goal 2: Revise the target passage 'She shone as bright as a star..'

Goal 3: Introduce the figurative language concept metaphor.

Goal 4: Compare and contrast an example of simile with an example of metaphor.


Collins Essential Dictionary and Thesaurus (2007) Harper Collins Publishers

DeKemel, K.P. (2003) Intervention in Language Arts: A Practical Guide for Speech-Language Pathologists. Butterworth-Heinemann.

DiCamillo, K. & Ibatoulline, B. (2006) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Candlewick Press

Kaderavek, J & Justice, L.M. (2002) Shared Storybook Reading as an Intervention Context: Practices and Potential Pitfalls. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Vol 11. 395-406.

Norris, J.A. (1991) From Frog to Prince: Using Written Language as a Context for Language Learning, Topics in Language Disorders. Vol 12, 66-81

Paul, R. (2001) Language Disoders form Infancy through Adolescence. Assessment and Intervention. Mosby

Scott, C.M. (2009) A Case for the Sentence in Reading Comprehension. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools. Vol 40. 184-191.

Wallach, G.P. (2008) Language Intervention for School-Age Students: Setting Goals for Academic Success. Mosby Elsevier

Wagner, R.K. Muse, A.E. & Tannenbaum, K.R. (2007) Vocabulary Acquisition: Implications for Reading Comprehension. The Guilford Press

Content Updated 8/11

Return from Figurative Language Therapy to Language Therapy

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