Give authentic analogy practice.

When message content is complex or unfamiliar to readers, good communicators look for analogies to take the mystery out of unfamiliar concepts.

When teachers wants to assess students’ understanding of course content, they, like other good communicators, scrap worksheets and multiple-choice exercises in favor of having students develop and use analogies.

Why should you give analogy practice?

Creating an analogy allows students to demonstrate both

  • content mastery and
  • effective communication with a target audience.

Students may think they understand a concept or procedure until they are forced to attempt to explain that content to someone else. A failure in that situation acts as formative assessment for the student — assessment that’s more effective than any test score or teacher comment.

Students need assigned analogy practice because many will not think of developing analogies without prompting. Also, asking students to develop an analogy as part of a writing assignment forces them to engage in a higher level of thinking than they might otherwise do.

Unfortunately for use writing teachers, crafting writing prompts that give students analogy practice is not easy. It requires that we know our content and our students.

In other words, we have to know the same things we expect of our students. Whew! No wonder teachers get the big bucks.

Use analogies yourself as teaching tools.

When you teach, use analogies to explain new concepts whenever you can. Analogies, like anecdotes, help students understand concepts by putting those concepts into familiar contexts.

I use analogies to explain such things as transition sentences and the structure of an introduction.

If your students have seen you using analogies regularly, they will be more comfortable with attempting to create their own.

Point out analogies in students’ texts.

English courses that emphasize literature are more likely to discuss similes and metaphors than to discuss analogies. However, analogies are common in expository nonfiction. You will find them in students’ history, science, and technology texts where analogies are used to simplify complex ideas.

You may need to use texts from those other disciplines for teaching the reading comprehension activities that afford opportunities to point out analogies.

If you teach English language arts in a school that adheres to Common Core State Standards, you may have no choice but to help students master reading of complex texts that include analogies.

Instead of viewing that as an unpleasant chore, look at it as a chance to hook that part of the student population turned off by literature by showing them how the material they read in other classes uses many of the same literary devices as classic novels and poems.

Give students practice creating analogies.

Once you’ve introduced students to the concept of the analogy, give them practice creating analogies as a means of developing an expository paragraph.

To build in the analogy practice, you need to specify in your writing prompt how and why students must create an analogy.

I suggest you have younger students develop a "paragraph essay" using an analogy, like the one below.

Sample writing prompt requiring an analogy

A topic sentence and a thesis sentence have a great deal in common. Write a paragraph in which you use an analogy to explain at least two aspects of the relationship between a topic sentence and a thesis statement.

Stop right now and think about what analogy you’d use to answer that question.

The logical process students must use to come up with an analogy is not very different from what they would use to come up with the answer to a bubble-test analogy question such as "cat is to kitten as cow is to _____."

Although the writing prompt may look harder than a bubble test question, students see writing an explanation as more relevant to their experience than standardized test questions. They know that people are asked to explain stuff every day, but nobody takes bubble tests outside of school.

Build analogy practice into your writing prompts.

As students mature, you can ask them to develop one body paragraph of a longer text through analogy while developing the other body paragraphs through methods of their own choosing.

Before I move on, what analogy did you come up with? I said the relationship between a topic sentence and a thesis sentence is analogous to the relationship of a room to a whole house.  

This original content by Linda Aragoni was first posted 16-Apr-2009 at and updated there on 13-June-2012.