Analogies are an extremely powerful device for explaining complex or foreign ideas.
People who work in STEM fields, social sciences, and business use them extensively. Too often, however, analogies don’t get adequate attention in English class.
To help students discover the power of analogies, I suggest a formal writing prompt that asks students to predict how they might use analogies.
Start by having students view one of these short videos explaining how analogies work. Both sites are oriented toward law students, but the explanations are easy to understand:
FYI: Only part of the video at study.com is available without signing up for an account, but the accessible portion is adequate for this assignment.
After students have viewed a video clip, give students five minutes in class to brainstorm situations in which they have either (1) had someone use an analogy to help them understand something, or (2) used analogies themselves to explain something. (Hint: Require brainstorming in full sentences; collect the responses to use as formative assessment.)
Give students this formal prompt either as homework or, better yet, have them respond to it at your next class meeting:
Think about the job you have or the one you’d like to have. Identify between two and five situations in which you might need to explain something—a product or a process, for example— to a customer who is unfamiliar with it. (If in your job you deal with patients, students, or clients rather than customers, use the appropriate term for your situation.)
In an I/E text, discuss two or three such situations in which you could use an analogy to help the person understand your explanation. If you have actually used an analogy in such a situation, you may use the story as one of your examples.
Please keep your response to no more than 650 words.