Teach English Writing: Understanding Analogies

ESL Teaching Materials

This lesson helps ESL students learn English writing and critical thinking skills by understanding and using analogies. The content is designed mostly for a writing class, but the material would work well in a high intermediate+ ESL conversation class.

What is an analogy?

It’s a sentence that compares two different things. When you write a sentence with an analogy, you are saying that two different things are similar in one or more ways.

Why write with an analogy?

Analogies add style to writing. They make writing interesting. Sometimes they are serious and move the reader to think deeply about an idea. Sometimes they are funny.

Analogies are useful because they communicate a lot of information in a sentence or two. They squeeze complex ideas and mental pictures into a few words.

How to write an analogy?

There are two simple ways to write an analogy: a simile and a metaphor. Similes use LIKE or AS. Metaphors don’t use LIKE or AS.

Here are a few examples of similes:

Her skin was white as snow.

The dead bird on the road was as flat a as a pancake.

My student didn’t do anything in class. He sat there like a bump on a log.

Here are some metaphors:

You are the light of my life.

This book is chicken soup for the soul.

Don’t trust that guy. He’s a snake.

Look Closely

Let’s look at how one analogy works.

Learning English is like riding a bike.

Learning English and riding a bike are similar in one way: they are hard to do at first. Some people say they are similar in another way. After some practice, they get easier. Is that true? Does learning English get easier with practice? Maybe the comparison is not completely accurate. After you learn how to ride a bike, you never really forget. Is that the same for learning a language? Not likely. It’s easy to forget.

This simple analysis shows the power of similes and metaphors. They can make an idea or argument seem true. But, they also hide details. They make arguments and conclusions look simple. They easily convince us that two things are similar – though many times – they are not.

Writing Exercise #1

Open the worksheet and read the metaphors and similes. For each question:

  1. find the metaphor or simile
  2. describe how the metaphor or simile works (what effect does it have in the sentence?)
  3. write a sentence or two to paraphrase the meaning

Writing Exercise #2

Here is a clip from a famous movie, called Dead Poet’s Society.

  1. Watch the clip.
  2. Find the metaphor.
  3. Paraphrase the meaning.
  4. Write an analysis that describes the analogies.
  5. The poem ends with a question. What is your answer to that question.

Writing Exercise #3

The third analysis of analogies begins with an understanding of a spoken passage by Alan Watts. In this short story he asks us to think about two metaphors of life. Click here to get the ESL teaching materials for this lesson, including spoken story.

Extra Teaching Materials

These videos contain arguments that use analogies. Use them as quick tests to check student understanding of analogies in practice. These videos are suitable for high intermediate+ plus classes.

For each, we might ask two questions:

  1. What’s the argument or message in the video?
  2. How does an analogy support the argument?

Direct TV

My Boyfriend and Obama

Pizza and Wealth Redistribution

Teach writing?

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