Figurative Language

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons
Editor: Scott R. McDaniel

Time: 1 class period
20 minutes
Materials: Lyrics to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot, sound clip or recording of song, Stereo or computer w/speakers

Figurative language is yet another literary device which authors use to make both fiction and non-fiction interesting and realistic. Students may already be familiar with some of the terms we will examine in this lesson, including metaphor, simile, personification, hyperbole, allusion, imagery, rhyme, and symbolism. In this lesson students will:

1. Read and analyze song lyrics.
2. They will find examples of figurative language in the poem.
They will practice using these devices in their own writing.

Purpose – This lesson is to allow students to explore the different types of figurative language authors use in their writing and to delve into the deeper meaning of texts through analysis.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify figurative language devices used by the author in a given text.
2. Explain why authors use these techniques in their writing.
3. Practice using figurative language devices in their own writing samples.

National English Education Standard
Standard 6: Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

Teacher Background
The teacher should read about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in order to provide students with some background history for the song. Download or borrow a copy of the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. You should also have knowledge of figurative language devices, how they are used, and what they consist of. The following terms will be studied in this lesson (but you are not limited to these only):

  • Metaphor (a comparison drawn between two or more unlike things)
  • Simile (a comparison drawn between two or more unlike things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’)
  • Hyperbole (an exaggeration or impossible statement)
  • Symbolism (a noun which has meaning in itself is used to represent something else)
  • Personification (non-human objects or animals are given human characteristics)
  • Allusion (a reference to something which exists outside the text)
  • Imagery (language which creates a picture in the mind of the reader)
  • Rhyme (paired words which sound alike)

Related and Resource Websites
Figurative Language Sites:
Edmund Fitzgerald Sites:

The lyrics of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” can be downloaded at: http://home.pacbell.net/chabpyne/lyrics.html
Audiovisual version available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_8s2zsNhSM



1. Before class, write the following terms on the board (but not in this order): exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

2.When students enter the room, ask them to write down each of the terms on a separate sheet of paper, ordering them according to the plot line diagram they used the day before. If you wish, you may also require that they explain the meaning of each term.

3. Collect these papers for assessment of the previous lesson. You may wish to review the correct answers after collecting students’ papers.

4. After the start-up activity, explain to the class that in today’s lesson they are going to study how authors use figurative language to create compelling texts.

5. Explain to the students that one form of writing in which you find a great deal of figurative language is poetry. Ask the class if they have read any poetry before, in or outside of school. Most students will respond that they have read more poetry in school than outside, although many students read poetry at home without realizing it - when they read song lyrics. Ask students if they have ever read the lyrics to one of their favorite songs. Why did they do this?

6. Pass out copies of the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot (included with this lesson). Tell the students a little bit about the historic sinking of the ship on November 10, 1975.

7. Read the lyrics aloud or have a student recite the song to the class. Then, analyze the song as a whole class, stanza by stanza, pointing out the various examples of figurative language (help the students to identify and underline examples, while working out definitions for each term).

8. Clarify the meaning and uses of the eight figurative language terms, and then give the class the following assignment: write a poem or short story (1-2) pages in which you use at least 6 of the 8 different types of figurative language you have studied.

Play the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot as students begin working on their writing assignment.

See step four of lesson outline.

Embedded Assessment
Assess student understanding of figurative language by evaluating the writing assignment given at the end of class. This writing should show an attempt to use a variety of figurative language techniques. Students will of course not have a firm grasp of this concept as of yet.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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