Metaphors are Windows

Monte Sibilla as seen from Montefortino, Italy

Friday morning started with our usual Poetry Friday celebration. We read Laura Purdie Salas’ wonderful poem “How is a Meadow an Ocean?” from the Poetry Friday Anthology, K-5 edition.


by Laura Purdie Salas

by Laura Purdie Salas

Then we tried making metaphors, just to play with the concept. At first, they came out kind of literal:

A pencil is a piece of wood with some lead inside.

A marker is a tube with color inside.

A carpet is a rug that lies flat on the floor.

But soon we warmed up to the idea by starting a metaphor, and then figuring it out as we went.

A book is…a bucket…filled with words.

A window is…an eye…that sees the world beyond.

A clipboard is…a tugboat…that hauls around our ideas.

Each time we built a metaphor, we learned a little something about the thing we described, and also a little something about ourselves. We laughed. We stroked our gray beards. We pondered.

*     *     *     *     *

Late in the day we read more from our class read aloud, Katherine Applegate’s,  The One and Only Ivan. It was Friday. We were tired. We came upon this passage. The children listened quietly as I read. They sensed the gravity of the moment.


We got very quiet. We listened. We thought.

We got very quiet. We listened. We thought.

Caleb: Oh. That’s sad.

Me: Tell me more.

Caleb: The vine breaks…the vine breaks….its like Ivan’s memory of the jungle and his family, his mom and dad and his sister. It’s broken.

Me: The vine is broken…

I hear you saying that the author used a metaphor to help us understand and feel what Ivan must be feeling. Is that right?

Caleb: Yeah. I guess.

Me: Can you say that metaphor so I can understand better what you mean? The vine is Ivan’s past, his love for his family?…So…Ivan’s memory, his love, is a vine that…

Caleb: …snapped and…left him alone, and he doesn’t have any hope anymore…nothing to hang on to.


Me: …nothing to hang on to.

Serena: I thought that part meant Tag died, ’cause it said that part about her not seeing him anymore. I thought that meant she died when the vine holding her snapped.

Me: So…life, Serena, Tag’s life? Life is a vine?

Serena: Yeah.

Me: So…help me understand…Life is a vine that…

Serena: …breaks…too soon sometimes.


Me: Life is a vine…that breaks too soon sometimes…

And sometimes when the vine rips apart, when we lose people or things that are important to us, it can feel hopeless, right? Have you ever felt that way when you lost something or someone really important to you? It might feel like we’ll never be the same again. It might feel like we have nothing left to hang on to.

Tag’s vine snapped. Ivan can’t hang on to what he loved. What will he do? What will we do when we lose things important to us?

Maybe reading about Ivan’s struggle can help us understand our own? Is that possible? That fiction can teach us about life? Will Ivan find a vine to hold onto again?

Metaphors are windows that open to the heart.

18 thoughts on “Metaphors are Windows

  1. Wow, what great moments from your discussion. I’m honored that my poem kicked off the day:>) And yes! If you name two things, kids will come up with the coolest ways to connect them. Extra love for the clipboard one…

    • Oh, Laura, thank you sooooo much for stopping by to chat! But especially, thank you for such a wonderful poem. It offered us a very nice opening into a complicated idea; this notion of figurative language, that sometimes we are talking about more than first meets the eye, that playfulness with words and thoughts can sometimes lead to discovery. These are huge ideas for us here in the classroom and, truly, also immensely freeing vines for us to hold onto and swing from as we grow up.

      • I love the idea of language and metaphors as vines–something to both hold onto, to grip, but also something to take you to new places and new ideas! I’m sure you and your students could write your own fantastic metaphor poem:>)

    • Thank you so much for stopping by to offer a comment, Miranda. Metaphors are the stuff of life. How poor we would be without them…

      I visited your website and noticed that you have a forthcoming book called ONE PLASTIC BAG. I’m very interested! What a cool way this could be to tie together big ideas like personal responsibility/ethics, natural resources, geography, and water systems. I’ll look for it when it arrives from Learner Publishing!

      • Thank you! Yes, the book comes out Feb. 1 and it actually has its own website now at! Don’t remember where in the country you are, but if our book tour is stopping close by, would love to pop into your classroom.

        • Thanks for stopping back to tell me about the book release date, Miranda! I am interested. I live in NE Iowa. Do you have a gig in that area? If so, maybe I can talk to our PTO about scheduling a visit. Of course, you’d always be welcome in the classroom!!

          What age/grade group is the book’s main audience? That would get me something for with PTO think about.

          • Hi Steve!

            The book is labeled for ages 6-10, but our Gambia presentation has been a real hit with 2nd-5th graders (we also do a writing activity). We can present to younger grades, but it would have to be a shorter and modified presentation. I had a blast recently with 4th graders in Maryland who got to read advanced copies, had a djembe drum-off, and learned some Wolof words.

            The good think is that I live in WI, so you’re not too far away. Isatou and I will have some stops in SE Wisconsin during the first two weeks of April 2015, just before Earth Day. If that time frame works with your PTO/classes, we’d love to come visit. Feel free to contact me via my site directly or email me at mirandapaulbooks [at] gmail [dot] com

  2. And along with all that Mary Lee & Laura loved, I loved that you captured the silence. It’s the sound, to use of metaphor, of thoughts taking root.

    • What a cool metaphor, this one of thoughts taking root! I’m imagining all the subterranean work that plants do in order to find sustenance. Unseen, but essential.

      As a result of applying for National Board Certification, I’m video recording my teaching more, which is causing me to reflect on my teaching more. All this is good. One thing I’ve been more mindful of is the amount of time I wait for “thoughts to take root.” I’m getting a gut-level sense of what not-enough feels like when I’m teaching. (At first that time felt like an eternity or two, yet it wasn’t all that long. Now, I feel like I’m adjusting my internal clocks a bit more.)

      The above transcript makes me think, too, about how conscious I am about using opportunities to “teach”: I’m thinking of the way I hijacked Caleb’s observation for my own purposes–to talk about metaphor. It “worked” because it was a useful concept, but it was still a hijacking! What does it mean for me to use that teacher power in that way? I may think about it more and then post about that…Also, the “preachy-ness” at the end of the transcript sounded better to my ears when I said it than it did on second thought. What to make of that, too…? I don’t really know what the kids thought of both of those. I’ll have to see if I can figure that out…

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I really value your thoughts. They ALWAYS cause my teaching roots to grow deeper.

      • Steve,
        I love the poem and so appreciate you sharing your work and your questions. At points in time, we do need to teach and demonstrate the “work” for our students. I didn’t hear “preachiness” in your blog and I read it both before and after the gym this morning. Giving students the gift of time to figure things out is critical. How can you structure that? I love the use of “know/wonder” charts from Vicki Vinton’s (and Barnhouse too) What Readers Really Do. Providing students with an opportunity to choose a favorite quote or phrase and talk through a metaphor (now that everyone has had exposure) might be a good way to resume work with metaphors in 2014 and as Vicki has been exploring, don’t forget the use of visuals as well.

        Love thinking and learning together in the blogosphere!

        • Fran, Thank you very much for stopping by to chat. I have really enjoyed getting to know your thinking via blogs and comments! Thanks so much for generously sharing your knowledge!

          I think we will come back to the metaphors after break is over. I suspect that in these metaphors lie something important about deepening our thinking about nonfiction…I have to think about this more…but it seems that everything is leading me towards poetry, which isn’t a bad destination to seek. 🙂

          • I love metaphor in nonfiction–Have you read A Black Hole Is Not a Hole–the use of metaphor to explain complex concepts and make them accessible is really stellar (hehe) in that book…

          • Laura! Thank you so much for stopping back to chat! No, I have not read A Black Hole is Not a Hole, but it sounds like just the kind of thing that I would be interested in looking at. This whole idea of using metaphor to think more deeply about nonfiction comes from some thinking some blogger friends (You know Mary Lee!) are helping me do about how to make our nonfiction work just a little bit better. I suspect that metaphor / analogy will figure into this at some point.

            Thanks so much for the tip. I’ll check out the book.

  3. Steve,
    Can’t believe it took me this long to find your blog and your beautiful work with students.

    I think in metaphors but find my students are stuck in a very shallow pool of thought (e.g., runs like a cheetah). I plan to start Ivan in January and because of your post I can see a way to weave in poetry along side it. Thank you for sharing this.


    • Thanks for stopping by to read, Julieanne. I’m most definitely a metaphor-thinker, too. I think that’s why I love poetry so much.

      I’m curious to see what your students think of Ivan. Several of mine jumped to their feet at the end and cheered. That’s a nice reaction from a book, eh? BTW, they really wanted Bob the dog to find a home, but were worried up until the end that he’d be left out.

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