Analogy word problems offer teaching solutions

Use course vocabulary for analogies practice

Analogy word problems are commonly used on standardized tests to assess students’ higher level thinking abilities.

Many students find such problems bewildering because they lack an adequate understanding of the meanings of the words used in the problems.

You can address this difficulty by creating analogy practice items that use your course vocabulary. That way you can be sure the words used in the analogies are ones students have at least encountered even if they didn’t master them initially.

The analogies practice activity below shows you can use analogy word problems to review content in English language arts. The idea will work equally well for content review and teaching critical thinking in social studies, geometry, art, etc.

Materials you will need

You need a list of word pairs that illustrate common analogy types. For younger students, or those you are just beginning to introduce to word problems, you can stick with simple types:

  • category : example
  • part : whole
  • object : use
  • cause : effect
  • word : synonym
  • word : antonym

With more mature students, you can add some more complex relationships, such as the dozen identified by the University of Hawaii reading lab. [Information no longer available; link removed]

Vocabulary websites and test prep websites may also provide useful lists. The more examples you have, the more useful the results of the analogy practice activity will be.

Create your list from the topics you study in your course. Here are some ELA examples:

fiction : novel
limerick : poem
sentence : paragraph
nonfiction : biography
PowerPoint : speech
reasoning : persuasion
perspective : viewpoint
novel : book-length fiction
introduction : beginning
fiction : nonfiction
oral : written
grammar : punctuation
conclusion : thesis
analogy : metaphor
advertisement : editorial

In addition to a generous sprinkling of word pairs whose relationship is obvious, include word pairs whose relationship is debatable or not easily described in one or two words.

Groups encourage diverse opinions

Have students work in small groups to identify the relationship(s) between the words of each pair.

Word pairs that are open to interpretation encourage discussion about the meanings of each word. Ambiguity leads to higher-level learning as students discuss the definitions of terms and look for the most logical relationships (plural) between vocabulary words. Some relationships may be more obvious than others, but there are no right or wrong answers for the word pairs.

When students don’t agree on a relationship, they should list all the relationships they observe.

If you have some shy students who resist public discussion, give the entire class opportunities to describe in one written sentence the relationships they observe in two or three examples. Often such informal writing is enough to convince the shy student she or he has something to contribute to the group’s discussion.

Essential skills addressed in this activity

This activity gives students practice in several important skills at the same time they review course material. Those skills include:

  • critical thinking
  • discipline-specific vocabulary
  • teamwork
  • oral communication

Just because an activity has one primary objective doesn’t mean it cannot provide practice in multiple skills.