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How to Use the Simile - For ESL Teachers

Updated on November 13, 2015
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew is a TEFL graduate and has recently taught classes in the UK. A keen traveller and article writer he has also tutored 1:1 abroad.

As Pretty As A Picture
As Pretty As A Picture | Source

Figures Of Speech


All you need to know about similes is right here. Keep your students as busy as bees as they learn about this fascinating figure of speech. Enliven your ESL classes with some traditional examples of the simile, as well as introducing your students to new and fresh ideas.

You will find exercises for your class, interesting facts, how to use similes in a sentence and in a poem - plus I've added websites with resources - worksheets, examples and more - to help your teaching go like clockwork. Check out the video Simile Song too!

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Class Exercise

Get your students to complete a simple sentence or two using a well known simile. Show them an example first. Here are some to get you going:

Similes fall into 5 categories:

1.people

as unhappy as King Lear

as happy as Larry

2.animals

as gentle as a lamb

as wise as an owl

3.plants

my love is like a red red rose

clings like ivy

4.objects

as white as a sheet

slept like a log

5.abstract

sings like an angel

like a dream come true

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Similar But Not The Same



Similes allow us to compare and contrast one thing to another. Usually the prepositions as and like are used, as in the examples in the first paragraph. It helps build a more interesting picture of the world around because it stirs our imaginations and introduces us to new ways of thinking.

Everyone uses similes, they bring humour and images into our lives in odd and idiosyncratic ways. They can also be used to help explain a concept or idea we may have that is difficult to articulate.

Life is like a bowl of cherries - delicious looking, shiny, wholesome, tasty, and good to share with others.

Often they can be a bit of a puzzle. For example, I recall my mother's favourite when I was a boy. If I came home caked in dirt from head to foot playing outdoors she'd say 'you're as black as old Harry's nutting bag' which didn't mean much at the time! But you see the simile my mother used added colour and stimulated my brain.

Who was this elderly man called Harry? Did he collect sweet chestnuts or hazel nuts? And put them all in a deep and well used collecting bag!

Other family favourites with mysterious origins were 'as daft as a brush' which was said of someone when they were acting silly and 'as fit as a fiddle' used to describe a lively, healthy and agile person.

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Rooted In The Culture

Different cultures have very different similes, different cultures share similar similes! For instance in the Netherlands if something tastes nice they declare:

like angels cycling across my tongue

which is similar to the English

tastes like heaven.

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Rural culture features heavily in Russia and Lithuanian similes. Two examples are:

like a squirrel in a wheel (when someone is extremely busy)

adorned like a Whitsuntide cow (when someone wears a fancy hat or scarf)

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Australia has some very down to earth similes. Two of the less colourful include:

that went down like a lead balloon ( that didn't go very well)

that's as rare as rocking horse •••• (that's extremely uncommon)

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Whilst the good old USA has this beauty:

as happy as a tick on a fat old dog (very contented in an I'm -not- moving- anytime -soon sort of way)

You can find many more examples of simile here:

http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/figures-similes-list.htm

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You can find many more poems with similes in them here:

http://www.primaryresources.co.uk/english/englishC7b.htm

Why Use Them In Writing?

Using an appropriate simile in a poem or work of prose can liven up the line or paragraph and connect strongly to the reader's imagination. It's a bit like adding spice to a dish or tangy juice or fruit to a dessert - you have to add just the right amount or you may ruin the overall effect. The same goes for a simile. Use the wrong type of image or get the images mixed up and you could easily upset, confuse or lose your reader!

So only use similes you know will work or your writing could end up like a meal without salt.

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Similes In Modern Poems


Some modern poets use similes in their work and often achieve great success. You need to be careful in the number of similes you use; too many and you'll overcook the meal.

One outstanding simile is often all you need in a short poem. Take Sylvia Plath's opening line for example in her poem Morning Song:

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.

The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry

Took its place among the elements.

A fat gold watch reflects the physical nature of birth and the preciousness of time. Do you think it works?


Seamus Heaney uses a tree in the poem Song:

A rowan like a lipsticked girl.


Wallace Stevens the American poet also liked to use simile. Here is a rather beautiful example from his classic first book Harmonium.

Six Significant Landscapes

ii

The night is of the colour

Of a woman's arm:

Night, the female,

Obscure,

Fragrant and supple,

Conceals herself.

A pool shines,

Like a bracelet

Shaken in a dance.

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As Snug As A Bug In A .....Car?
As Snug As A Bug In A .....Car? | Source

Similes In Your Own Work


If you're keen to compose poetry or write prose and want to include similes I'd say be cautious in how you use them. Similes can be like pernicious weeds and undermine all the good stuff you've 'grown' on your page!

Keep them simple and rooted in the proper culture.

I came across these two examples recently and although I think they still qualify as similes I'm not too sure about them:

as softly as a wild bird's wing.

like a white-clad girl tip-toeing to her own reflection.

What if the wild bird is a 15 foot Andean condor? Is the white - clad girl a ballet dancer on a sheet of glass or ice? These two don't seem to stand on their own like a traditional simile should so I would avoid writing anything that is vague.



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Source
Source

Ancient and Modern Songwriters



Pop and folk songs and other ballads are full of similes often relating to the pain and joys of life and in particular love. Take this Irish traditional The Curragh Of Kildare:

My love is like the sun that in the firmament does run

and always proves constant and true

But hers is like the moon that wanders up and down

And every month becomes something quite new.


Musicians like Bob Dylan use them all the time:

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?

and Leonard Cohen:

Like a bird on the wire,

Like a drunk in a midnight choir

I have tried in my way to be free.

Similes seem right at home in some songs and a good songwriter can use several in a lyric and still getaway with it! There are some howlers that have been employed however - have a look here:

My honey, my flower, to me you're like a spring shower,

The lightest rain I know helps make the perfect rainbow.

for the worst sort of simile in a song - and you'll quickly understand the importance of choosing the right sort of image to get your message across!

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William Shakepeare
William Shakepeare | Source

As You Like Them


Similes are found in many poems both modern and old. They add flavour and richness to the text. William Shakespeare was a master of the simile. But, look at the first line of his most famous sonnet No 18 :

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Is this a pure simile? It doesn't contain 'like' or 'as' so technically speaking it isn't a simile. It's a straight comparison. If he had written 'Shall I say thou art like a summer's day?' this would have been a simile but we wouldn't have had the most famous of love sonnets!

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Shakespeare had a knack of using them in a pure form and then blending them with and into metaphor. He does it again and again in several of his plays, most notably in the second scene of Henry V where he uses the ancient Roman poet Virgil's subject of bees :

......for so work the honeybees

Creatures that by a rule in nature teach

The act of order to a peopled kingdom.

Shakespeare's plays contain hundreds of similes many of which reflect our profound connections to nature and the animal world. One particular favourite of mine appears in a comedy, Twelfth Night, where Olivia's servant Fabian addresses the hesitant Aguecheek.

Fabian: (in the company of Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch)

.......and you are now sailed into the north of my
lady's opinion; where you will hang like an icicle
on a Dutchman's beard, unless you do redeem it by
some laudable attempt either of valour or policy.

Twelfth Night, Act Three, Scene II

This simile seems to suggest that Sir Andrew will be compared to a lump of elongated ice, frozen out and looking rather like a useless appendage on a foreigner's beard! Fantastic image! Unless he acts (and challenges a youth who had been shown favour by Olivia to a duel, so proving his valour to the lady he loves).

Another famous use of simile by Shakespeare comes in the Act 4 of Romeo and Juliet.

Capulet says ' Death lies on her like an untimely frost'.

An image that is literally chilling yet hauntingly beautiful.

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Source

Conclusion


Similes will probably never go out of fashion. All languages it seems are in need of them because

  • they're a link between the past and the present.
  • they brighten up and enliven both text and speech.
  • they relate to the concrete and the supernatural.
  • they contain irony and sarcasm and wit.
  • they create beautiful images in our minds.

You can find some useful worksheets here:

http://bogglesworldesl.com/simile_worksheets.htm

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Copyright chef-de-jour@Hubpages

Please help stop plagiarism by contacting the author if you suspect this original article has been stolen.

© 2012 Andrew Spacey

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  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Like a curtain.....yes, opening up to the light,nice........ that reminds me of a joke about somebody having to pull themselves together...(the person was feeling like a pair of curtains!)

    Thank you for the comment. Similes are wonderful- anything that adds a colouful image to our language has to be given time and space.

    Appreciate your visit.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Always good to have a comment from Rahul, definitely as busy as a bee buzzing round the hubs!

    Appreciate that, like a breath of fresh air.

  • dmop profile image

    dmop 5 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

    This is a very well contemplated examination of the simile. Your words are like a curtain pulled back from the window revealing the days light of understanding, or something like that. Perhaps I need some practice, I will continue to work on it. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

  • rahul0324 profile image

    Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

    Wonderful information!

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    O thankyou for the comment..... that makes me feel as happy as Larry...

    yes..... and the icicle on the Dutchman's beard is a wonderful image.

    Appreciate your visit.

  • Liz Lilith profile image

    Liz Lilith 5 years ago from Florida, USA

    I really enjoyed this hub! I love using similes in my writing.

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