A Guide For Teaching With Analogies
by Terry Heick
Analogies are one of the best kept secrets in education.
Often used as multiple choice question items or as warm-ups to begin a lesson, analogies are use teaching and learning strategies because of their flexibility, ease of use, and tendency to force cognitive load on students.
I use them constantly in my classroom, primarily due to their grab-and-go format. Any place, any time–verbal, drawing, exit slip, discussion, one-on-one, whole class, group work, begin class, end class, abstract or concrete thinking, analogies are imminently useful. They’re also everywhere–debates, commercials, sitcoms, poetry, hip-hop, video games.
What’s not to love?
An analogy is simply a comparison between two things. In this way, it is similar to the simile and metaphor. We use analogies all the time informally. In conversation, when you compare one situation to another, you’re using an analogy. ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’ is a simile that also compares analogous ideas–the uncertainty and variety in life experiences with the same in a box of chocolates.
Beyond the conversational analogy, there are formal academic analogies.
Academic analogies are useful for teaching and learning because they require students to analyze a thing (or things), and then transfer that analysis that analysis to another thing. This kind of transfer requires at least some kind of conceptual grasp–understanding.
This makes them useful for assessment, but they can also be used as an effective learning strategy as well. As students create incorrect analogies, analyze the relationships their analogies are suggesting, and then correct them accordingly, students are grappling with ideas, monitoring and revising their thinking, and otherwise actively consider the often complex relationships between disparate things.
Imagine asking a student to complete the following analogy.
Starting with an open right side, where items C & D are open is not a bad way to start, as it allows students to make mistakes. Which is good–their mistakes are illuminating. They tell you what the student thinks, but do so in a way that doesn’t require the writing process, verbal articulation, or some in-depth and long-term project that taxes their ability to manage their time and be organized as much as it does their understanding of ideas.
So in the journal, for example, a student writes, Laws:Constitution::Weapon:Video Game.
This was useful for the student as a learning strategy, as the student had to “think” about what laws “do”, and do so while really, truly internalizing it all. The above “weapon:video game” response tells you the student think that laws function like weapons–destroying enemies, defending the protagonist, doing damage, etc.
You may not, at a glance, be sure which–you can ask if you have time–but you can tell here that the student’s on the right track. So maybe you suggest a mild revision–Laws:Constitution: Code: Video Game. You may not be sure yourself if this is true–maybe you’re only vaguely familiar with how video games work–but you suggest it anyway.
Next, you ask the student to critique your answer–say how it is and isn’t true. There is zero chance you won’t have that student carefully scrutinizing–with whatever knowledge they do have–to come up with something. Who doesn’t want to point out a teacher’s error?
And isn’t careful scrutiny what we’re after as teachers?
In maybe their best trick, analogies make differentiation and personalization dead simple. Struggling reader? Use monosyllabic terms. Non-reader? Well, that’s a huge problem, but try symbols. Hesitant learner? Use pop culture items that make it seem less like “school.”
Abstract thinker? Use equally abstract and theoretical terms. Well-read? Use literary ideas, figures, etc. Tech-addict? Social butterfly? Introvert? Use that!
Analogies function by providing a framework for comparison across four concepts. Two items are compared to determine a relationship, and that relationship is then reproduced between two other ideas.
In a formal academic analogy, four Items are separated by a series of colons, as in the formula shown below.
The two items on the left (items A & B) describe a relationship, and are separated by a single colon. The two items on the right (items C & D) are shown on the right, and are also separated by a colon. Together, both sides are then separated by two colons in the middle, as demonstrated here: Hot: Cold:: Wet: Dry
To complete these, students have to identify, analyze, evaluate, and transfer. Consider the following analogy: Fish:River::Bird:_____
Even in this very simple analogy, students might identify a half-dozen characteristics of the relationship between fish and river, their mind scrambling to find relationships. They then analyze that relationship and come up with those most obvious. Fish live in a river, are sometimes found in a river, are caught in a river, love the river, are smaller than a river, etc.
With this list, they then have to scrutinize more carefully, evaluating each item accordingly until they can name the relationship in the second part of the analogy that best describes that established in the first. That last part requires some patience–students love to shout out answers (identify and analyze), but the evaluate part takes more effort, so they try to skip it. Don’t let them! (See below.)
Tips For Teaching With Analogies
1. The more consistently you use analogies, the more comfortable students will become with their simple but highly “academic” format. Let’s face it–analogies look intimidating and dry. Once they get past that initial impression, they’ll be more useful as a teaching and learning tool.
2. Background knowledge, social and cultural contexts, socioeconomic status and more all are “part” of a student’s experience–and thus their thinking.
In the “Fish:River” analogy, students unfamiliar with rivers–those that have always seen fish caught in the ocean, for example–may be confused by this. The same is true using any concept that is less than universal–snow, traffic lights, skyscrapers, apps, etc.
3. Subjectivity always plays a role.
Even ideas that every student understands can be problematic if they see the relationship differently than you do. Is baseball “America’s past time” or “boring”? Was Malcolm X heroic or defiant–or heroic because he was defiant?
That doesn’t mean you can’t use these items, but be prepared to adjust on the fly if students are having trouble. As with any assessment, don’t let the form obscure students showing you what they do and don’t understand.
Rules for Completing Analogy
Students love to play fill-in-the-blank with analogies. Nature hates a void, and even confusing analogies can usually get a mildly-engaged student guessing. When going over analogies whole-class, don’t let the students shout out answers, or guess. Make them first complete a sentence that best describes the relation between items A & B, and don’t let them go any further until they do.
In the following analogy, Soap: Germs::______:Conflict, require students to first come up with a sentence for items A & B–and not just any true sentence, but once that best describes the relationship between the items.
Soap kills germs (or at least washes them away–depends on how carefully students are thinking!) works. So soap kills germs as tolerance kills conflict.
That one was easy enough. But when you consider Emily Dickinson:Em-Dash:Carpenter:______, the answer is less obvious. Dickinson made extensive use of the Em-Dash as a carpenter makes extensive use of a hammer–or saw, or whatever. But blueprints, or concrete wouldn’t work so well, as carpenters don’t (usually) make extensive use of each.
14 Types Of Analogies To Promote Thinking
Rise of Social Messaging:Demise of Email::__________:French Revolution
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream”:Civil Rights::________:Gay Rights
Emily Dickson’s Poetry:Pious::Robert Frost’s Poetry:_________
Field: Farm:: Audience
Verbal Irony:_______::Nexus 5:Smartphone
Porsche 911: Sports Car:: Alligator: Reptile
Degree of Difference
“It’s 93 degrees”:”It’s Hot”::________:”Freedom isn’t free”
Revision:Writing Process::______Sentence Diagramming
Swastika:Nazi Germany::Faulkner’s use of setting in “A Rose for Emily”:________
14 Types of Analogies; A Guide For Teaching With Analogies
This is part two of a three part series of articles that discusses visual thinking devices you can use to enhance your visual message.
Within the previous post we discussed how to use metaphors and analogies to help you communicate your visuals in more effective ways. Within this article, I want to explore two more devices you can use to present your visuals and thereby influence peoples’ mental models of the world.
What is a Simile?
A simile is a figure-of-speech that directly compares two different things, often incorporating the words “like”, “as”, or “than”.
Both similes and analogies make comparisons between two things — allowing them to remain distinct in spite of their similarities. Metaphors on the other hand compare two things directly — effectively making the two things, one.
Similes are important devices to use while thinking visually because they allow you to present information in a way that people can immediately relate to. Moreover, unlike metaphors, they can be as precise as you want them to be.
Have a read of the following examples and envision first, how you would visualize them, and secondly for what purposes you could use them to represent your concepts and ideas.
- As slow as a snail
- As smart as an owl
- As solid or steady as a rock
- As big as an elephant
- As cold as ice
- As easy as ABC
- As fat as a pig
- As free as a bird
- As happy as a clown
- As agile as a monkey
- As high as a kite
- As strong as an ox
- As good as gold
- As tall as a giraffe
- As quick as lightning
- As quick as a wink
- As sturdy as an oak
- As sure as death a taxes
- As timid as a rabbit
- As brave as a lion
- As cunning as a fox
- As tough as a bull
- As straight as an arrow
- As hard as nails
- As fresh as daisies
- As fit as a fiddle
- As fast as a race car
- As gentle as a lamb
- As poor as dirt
- As blind as a bat
- As busy as a bee
- The world is like a stage
- They fought like cats and dogs
- To soar like an eagle
- To eat like a horse
- To work like a dog
Having read through these similes, ask yourself the following questions:
What kinds of concepts and ideas could I present using these similes?
What could these similes represent in relation to my business, career or life?
What universal message could I potentially get across to others?
What kinds of visual images, emotions and symbols come to mind?
In what sort of context could I best use them?
Each of these similes represents one key idea or message that we naturally accept as the truth, because they are aligned with how we have experienced the world over a lifetime. Therefore, incorporating these similes into your visuals will bring more depth to your visual message, and will likewise help you to better synergize your visuals with your audiences’ mental model of the world.
What is an Allegory?
An allegory is a device used to present an idea, principle or meaning, which can often be presented in a visual way. Some view an allegory as an extended metaphor that communicates its message through an action, or through a symbolic figure or representation of something.
It’s important to note that each of the similes mentioned above can effectively become visual allegory, or in other words, symbolic representations that have meaning and significance to us.
For instance, the symbol of a lion often signifies bravery, a snail symbolizes a lack of speed, an owl symbolizes learning, intelligence and education, and the grim reaper symbolizes death. Have a read through all the similes listed above, and think about how you could present them to help better communicate your next visual message.
By learning to identify and then incorporating these universal symbols into your visuals, will help you to better communicate your visual message to your audience. Likewise, it will help you, personally, to gain a better grasp and understanding of the information you are presenting.
The Significance of the Visual Thinking Story
Having discussed metaphors, analogies, similes and allegory, the next step along our visual thinking journey takes us to an exploration of the visual thinking story. As such, within the next post I will dig a little deeper into the concept of a metaphor and discuss the significance of stories, parables, fables and anecdotes, and how they relate to visual thinking and peoples’ mental models of the world.