Koch took a backdoor approach to teaching the conventions of style devices as well. He found that repetition came naturally to children and realized that other poetic crafts could authentically emerge as well if presented in the right way. In the past, I've shown students examples of figurative language such as similes and have given them definitions. I tried visuals along with numerous examples. Some students got it eventually; however, when asked to create their own examples, they wrote similes such as "she was as tall as my sister" or "he was mean like my neighbor." Students were so preoccupied with fitting the form that the poetic spirit was not there. The same students who were intimidated by poetry writing became paralyzed when introduced to crafts such as similes. It was just too difficult. Koch insists that "Poetry should be talked about in a simple a way was possible and certainly without such bewildering rhetorical terms as alliteration, simile, and onomatopoeia."
There is a time and place for the labels of particular devices, but that time does not come before students can weave them, sometimes unknowingly, into their lines in an authentic way. Koch indicates, "Poetry is a mystery, but it is a mystery children can participate in and master, and they shouldn't be kept away from it by hard words."
Koch asked students to write comparison poems; he specifically asked them to make strange comparisons. He explains he encouraged students to take chances and "suggested they compare something big to something small, something in school to something out of school, something unreal to something real, something human to something not human."
His intention was "to rouse them out of the timidity [he] felt they had about being 'crazy' or 'silly' in front of an adult in school."
Similes without imagination often cannot work and encouraging nonsensical poems is necessary in freeing imagination. Students need sanctuary from the right and wrong of Connecticut Mastery Testing practice and test preparation. They need to feel safe and comfortable without the fear of judgment or grades. When they are outside of these confines, they become uninhibited; therefore, they are able to make unusual connections. As Koch notes, very often these curious comparisons can lead to extraordinary insights. His technique was as follows:
I held up a piece of chalk, a sheet of paper, a notebook, and asked them to compare
each to something which was like it only in one way and not in others: the chalk is
like a snowy mountain. I told them to hold their hands in front of their eyes and
look at the sky. How big was their hand? As big as the sky. Many comparisons, I
said, sounded wrong but were actually right in some way. I asked them to compare
little things to big things: a mouse is like an elephant; and things in school to things
outside school: the blackboard is as green as the sky. I asked them to compare two
things that they thought were not alike at all and then see what they felt about it:
rain is like a cemetery.
This technique can pay off two-fold. Not only can students create remarkably clever comparisons, the discussions that follow can be very insightful. Don't forget to refer to Shakespeare's Sonnet #18. Not only did Shakespeare masterfully use metric pattern, but his poem is one long, unusual comparison – a person to a summer's day. He goes on to explain his comparison in every line. This is an excellent model to use in this lesson because students are already familiar with the poem and the comparison is obvious from the initial line, which begs the reader to question how does the person compare?
In much the same way, Koch introduced metaphors; however, metaphors seemed to be a bigger and more difficult task than the comparison poems. He attributes this to the fact that "it isn't as natural to children to make metaphors as to make comparisons; metaphors require an extra act of thought."
To get around this problem, ask students to write, again, comparison poems but this time removing the words as or like. A great poem format that can work here is "I am" poems. Ask students to complete the line. Another form that works well here is starting each even line with "I used to be" and starting each odd line with "But now I'm." Encourage students to continuously use all the tools and techniques discussed in all their poetry.
Similes and metaphors are difficult to understand especially when dealing with students who are on a lower reading level. As I mentioned, many of my students are at basic or below on the Connecticut Mastery Tests or are learning English as a second language, so figurative language is very difficult to understand since many of them are dealing primarily with the literal. The following exercise is one that can be done for additional practice with students who need the extra work. It is called "Pimp the Lyrics." Refer to the television show "Pimp my Ride." Ask students what it means to pimp my ride and what do the producers of the show do in order to pimp a ride? Connect this to pimping lyrics. In other words, rather than simply stating the basic words to express something, tell students to express it using metaphors and similes. Use lyrics in rap or other songs to show how many artists use similes and metaphors to pimp their lyrics. Find examples of similes and metaphors in current songs to show as models. Some examples I found include lyrics from artists such as 50 Cent, Eminem, Smashing Pumpkins, and The Black-Eyed Peas. When revealing the lyrics, only show the line that includes the figurative language avoiding, very often, inappropriate words or lyrics. On the board, write only what the artist meant. For instance, ask students who said, "I am very trendy" and how did they say it? Ask students to pimp the lyrics "I am very trendy." Ask students what they can compare a trendy person to? Give students time and then share examples. Then reveal the real artist and the way the lyrics are really sung. In this case, "I am very trendy" is pimped by the Black-Eyed Peas singing "I'm so 3008, you so 2008, I got that boom, boom, boom." This can also be done in reverse by students reading the pimped lyrics and trying to write what the author is actually saying.
William Wordsworth's "Daffodils" lends itself well to comparison poetry. His poem also does yet another thing that students can do well once introduced to it: personification. He speaks of "the daffodils" as a "crowd fluttering and dancing in the breeze." The daffodils come to life "Tossing their heads in a sprightly dance." Wordsworth makes the unthinkable happen almost as if in a dream. This lends itself well to the next poetic theme: "Dream" poems. Children have marvelous dreams and sometimes these dreams don't make sense so their poems don't have to as Koch pointed out to his students.
Ask students to write "Dream" poems which should include similes and metaphors and may include some of the other crafts learned in past lessons. Always share poems and invite students to suggest areas where students can "pimp the lines" in revision.
Koch's students provide beautiful examples of metaphors. Tomas Torres' "Blank is Blank" gives several funny and interesting comparisons such as "Mrs. Wiener is a lovely flower which shouts."
An unknown author writes "Traffic" where he/she includes great similes such as in the line "The sound of horns sounds like the striking of a xylophone."
Consider reading a poem without similes or metaphors and invite students to offer suggestions as to how they may revise some of the lines. This is a wonderful opportunity to teach students the value of critiquing someone's work as a class without worrying about any student feeling affronted.