Need ideas and activities to teach literal & nonliteral language? In this post, I’ll share tips and activities to help you teach your students to distinguish between literal and nonliteral language.
What is Literal and Nonliteral Language?
Literal language is language and text that means exactly what it says. It is based on the dictionary meanings of words. Examples of literal language are, “I’m really hungry” and “I slept like a log last night.”
Nonliteral language is language and text that means something different than what it actually says. The meaning of phrases goes beyond the meaning of the individual words. Instead of saying “I’m very hungry,” you would say, “I could eat a horse”. Both sentences mean that you are hungry but each gives a reader or a listener a different mental image. Nonliteral languages is similar to figurative language, metaphors, and idioms.
Examples of Nonliteral Language
- It’s raining cats and dogs
- The test was a piece of cake!
- You hit the nail on the head!
- Don’t let the cat out of the bag
- Do you have a frog in your throat?
- We were walking on pins and needles
Students need to be able to determine when language is literal and when it is not. If they’re unable to notice these nuances, they won’t be able to understand everything they read and hear.
Try these activities to teach literal & nonliteral language to your students in an engaging and fun way.
Minilessons for Literal and Nonliteral Language
Teach the definitions, qualities, and characteristics of literal & nonliteral language with an interactive PowerPoint mini-lesson. Take time to see if students can think of examples of nonliteral language that they have heard or used before.
Give plenty of examples of literal & nonliteral language throughout your lesson. It’s easier to understand the different types of language through a variety of examples.
Make sure to incorporate interactive features, like moveable slide parts, in your lessons to help students stay engaged. Also, give opportunities for partner work throughout your lesson to help students learn from each other as they build their understanding of literal & nonliteral language. Students need to be able to determine and sort whether language examples are literal or nonliteral.
Read Nonliteral Words and Phrases in Context
Provide a reading passage that contains examples of nonliteral language. Have students identify the nonliteral examples and determine their literal meanings.
When students see nonliteral phrases used in context, our goal is for them to understand how the can use nonliteral language in their own speaking and writing.
Books to Teach Nonliteral Language
Another idea on how to teach literal & nonliteral language is to read mentor texts aloud to your class. These read aloud books should give plenty of examples of the different language types. Here are some great read aloud options to teach literal & nonliteral language:
The following book links are Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate I earn a small commission for qualifying purchases.
The Amelia Bedilia books are the perfect read alouds for teaching idioms and nonliteral language. There are lots of other great books to use too.
Bedhead by Margie Palatini
In Bedhead, Oliver is having a very bad hair day on class picture day. This story is funny, entertaining, and has a ton of great nonliteral language examples throughout. Read this text to help introduce literal & nonliteral language, or read it during your unit and see if students can recognize the different types of language.
You’re Toast by Nancy Loewen
You’re Toast explains nonliteral language, like metaphors and idioms, in a very clear and straightforward way. It’s a great read aloud story, and the explanations can even help teachers learn more about how to teach literal & nonliteral language.
My Momma Likes to Say by Denise Brennan-Nelson
In My Momma Likes to Say you’ll find an abundance of common nonliteral language phrases. The author uses a sing-song, repetitive rhyme on each page while describing nonliteral language from a child’s point of view. The illustrations help children visualize the difference between literal and nonliteral language.
My Teacher Likes to Say by Denise Brennan-Nelson
From the same author as My Momma Likes to Say, My Teacher Likes to Say is a fun story that contains common nonliteral classroom phrases. Each page gives a description and explanation of the nonliteral language, so it’s another helpful resource to help you learn how to teach literal & nonliteral language to your students in a clear and concise way.
Butterflies in My Stomach by Serge Bloch
Butterflies in My Stomach tells the silly story of a child’s first day of school using common nonliteral phrases in a literal manner. This read aloud book will definitely have your students giggling and thinking a little harder about those idioms they’ve probably heard before.
Practice with Task Cards
Task cards are a super versatile activity to use in the classroom. There are so many ways to incorporate task cards and make them work for your needs.
Try using them as a center activity, or post the task cards around the classroom for students to do a Roam the Room activity. You can also use them for a whole group activity by projecting them on your board or using them to play Scoot.
Take a Brief Assessment
After teaching and practicing with these literal & nonliteral language activities, have students take a brief assessment that allows you to easily and quickly evaluate their understanding and determine need for further instruction.
By the end of your unit, students should be able to distinguish between literal and nonliteral language, translate nonliteral language into its literal meaning, and generate examples of both types of language on their own.
Lesson Plans to Teach Literal and Nonliteral Language
I hope these activities give you plenty of ideas on how to teach your students to determine if a phrase is meant literally or not. For ready to use lesson plans, posters, and all of the activities shown here, check out my weeklong Literal & Nonliteral Language grammar unit that is easy to implement and engaging for students.
By the end of the unit, students will be able to differentiate between literal and nonliteral language, generate their own examples, and use each type of language in their writing and speech. The lessons and activities in the unit are designed to take just 15 minutes or less each day.
Click HERE for the complete resource.
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