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This is Your Brain on Figurative Language: Brain-Science of Metaphors & Similes

Grade Levels
7th - 12th, Higher Education
Formats Included
  • Word Document File
6 pages


Do you know what a simile is? A metaphor? If you do, you can probably give me a hand with these definitions:

• A simile is a comparison that uses “like” or “as.”

• A metaphor is a comparison that does NOT use “like” or “as.”

Now that we’re all on the same page, I have to offer a confession: I taught figurative language using these two definitions for a huge chunk of my teaching career.

I never realized I was stuck in a rut. These textbook explanations blocked me from seeing that symbolic language was much deeper than the way I was teaching it. But then, very recently, I read something that turned everything I thought I knew on its head.

The excerpt that accompanies this introduction is from a book by Robert Sapolsky, who is such a respected scientists that even other scientists put him on a pedestal. It’s called, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. Sapolsky is not a poet. But when I read this, it hit me with the force of great poem.

Before we read it, though, I want to ask you not to take notes. Don’t try to capture everything on paper. Just sit back, block out other distractions, put your student hats on, and let Robert Sapolsky drop some poetic science on you.


The intro above is meant for teachers to read aloud. It has at least 15 examples of figurative language in it, but that won't become clear until after students have been introduced to Robert Sapolsky's beautiful explanation of how our brains process figurative language. After reading both of these things aloud, teachers give the class the print version of this introduction as a handout and ask students to find the figurative language hidden in the introduction.

In this lesson you'll find a script, three handouts, and an answer key to go over the figurative language in your classroom.


This is an English teacher resource from Roxanna Elden, author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers and creator of the new teacher Disillusionment Power Pack. If you’d like to sign up for monthly emails with free resources and funny, honest, practical tips for teachers, please visit www.roxannaelden.com.

Total Pages
6 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
30 minutes
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