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Word Feast Middle School for Figurative Language
Ages: 11-14   Grades: 6-9
For your students who interpret figurative language literally, ease their frustration and end confusion with Word Feast Middle School for Figurative Language.  Each expertly-crafted lesson is designed to demystify the interpretation and use of this colorful language.


  • Improve the ability to understand and use figurative language in oral and written communication
  • Understand communication intent
  • Improve social interaction
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Students with ASD and other language disorders misunderstand the communication intent of their peers which often leads to social segregation.  The lessons in Word Feast Middle School for Figurative Language give your students access to understanding and using figurative language in their communication.

Based on best-practice techniques, each lesson centers on a theme and includes:

  • targeted figures of speech
  • teaching tips
  • prior knowledge activation questions
  • controlled-level, context-rich, and often hysterically funny reading passages
  • teaching activities that include interesting facts about the history of the phrase
  • a list of student-friendly meanings that include usage tips and correct/incorrect usage examples
  • answer key

Lesson themes include On the Job, Fashion and Clothing, Music, Team Sports, Money, Nature, Fun and Games, and many others. 

Give your students the language power they need to banter with their peers, write colorfully, and end their feeling of social isolation with Word Feast Middle School for Figurative Language.

Copyright © 2013

121 pages, answer key

The research base for specific forms of figurative language comprehension and usage is sparse, but "metaphor" and "metaphoric language" have been explored to some depth.  The types of figurative language presented in this book can be classified under the general umbrella of metaphor, and the evidence under that label is relevant to the series.    

  • Vocabulary knowledge is strongly correlated to reading comprehension proficiency and school achievement.  Children who start school with poorly developed vocabulary skills will, without robust instruction, remain academically behind their peers (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002).
  • Reynolds and Ortony (1980) investigated the comprehension of similes and metaphors by second- through sixth-grade typical children.  They found evidence of an ability to understand figurative language by children at all grade levels when adequate contextual supports were provided (Seidenberg & Bernstein, 1986).
  • Many learning-disabled children appear to have the requisite abilities and strategies for metaphoric comprehension in their cognitive repertoires but fail to spontaneously and appropriately access and apply them when they should . . . learning-disabled children often fail to spontaneously identify the need to use appropriate, cognitive processing strategies that are well within their cognitive competence (Seidenberg & Bernstein, 1986).
  • Metaphoric competence reflects an individual's cognitive level, abstract reasoning ability, and linguistic competence.  The likelihood of [identifying] nonliteral responses [in figurative contexts] depends primarily on these competencies but is also influenced by an individual's familiarity with the specific figurative forms being studied (Lee & Kamhi, 1990).
  • The ability to understand the motives and intentions of others is essential.  Assisting children with ASDs to decode figurative language may improve their social skills in relating to others (Mackay & Shaw, 2004).
  • Understanding a speaker's communicative intention is a central goal of communication and involves going beyond the literal meaning of an utterance.  Children who do not understand these intentions have major communicative difficulties.  Often, they are rejected by their peers, further reducing opportunities for interaction.  Perhaps they struggle on with their frustration and confusion unnoticed, as the people around them continue to use figurative language.  Our closer attention to the specifics of their difficulties should help them when they try to work out the meanings and intentions in the figurative language of their communicative partners (Mackay & Shaw, 2004).

Word Feast Middle School for Figurative Language incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Lee, R.F., & Kamhi, A.G. (1990). Metaphoric competence in children with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(8), 476-482.

Mackay, G., & Shaw, A. (2004). A comparative study of figurative language in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Child Language Teaching & Therapy, 20(1), 13-32. doi: 10.1191/0265659004ct261oa

Reynolds, R.E., & Ortony, A. (1980). Some issues in the measurement of children's comprehension of metaphorical language. Child Development, 51, 1110-1119.

Seidenberg, P.L., & Bernstein, D.K. (1986). The comprehension of similes and metaphors by learning disabled and nonlearning-disabled children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 17, 219-229.


Paul F. Johnson


Paul F. Johnson has developed products and software for LinguiSystems since 1990.  He is the author or co-author of many LinguiSystems products, including titles in the Spotlight, 50 Quick-Play, and No-Glamour series.  He has particular interests in developing critical thinking, social, and communication skills in children and adults and feels that solid written and verbal communication skills are not only essential to social and career success, but lead to more fulfilling lives and relationships.  Paul enjoys quiet time with his family, reading, playing the guitar, and cooking.


In 2011, we published the vocabulary training manuals Word Feast Elementary and Word Feast Middle School to immediate and continued popularity.  The approaches in those books were inspired by the fine work of Isabel Beck and her colleagues in Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction.  That book contained a new and effective vocabulary-teaching model that we knew could work for not only normally-developing students, but also for children with developmental deficits.  And based on the enthusiastic responses of our customers, our initial assumptions were correct!  Just because children are language disordered or delayed, that doesn't mean they can't learn new words, or more importantly, learn words that are rich in meaning and usage.

We've extended the original model that addressed individual vocabulary terms to include the exploration of figurative language.  Without a basic understanding of the mechanics of figurative language, many language-delayed students are lost in conversation and remain unable to express themselves in the colorful ways that reflect the language of their peers.

Beck's instructional model stressed the importance of teaching individual words that exhibited these criteria:

  • Importance and utility—words that appear frequently across a variety of domains
  • Instructional potential—words that have rich meanings and connect the studentto other words and concepts
  • Conceptual understanding—words that provide specificity and precision of use and are words that students already know

In Word Feast Middle School for Figurative Language, I've also adhered to another guiding principal of Beck's: whenever possible, select figurative language terms that are not abstract concepts but that have familiar synonyms and can be easily defined.  Language-delayed students need to make concrete connections between new concepts and familiar meanings.  Whenever possible, I've selected figurative language expressions in this book that can be connected to either familiar definitions or other idiomatic expressions with similar meanings.

Choosing figurative language expressions to teach is a tricky business.  Many expressions become outdated, have regional usage, or are obscure in origin.  The philosophy I followed when selecting the terms in this book was twofold: overall enrichment of the language experience and introducing expressions that are naturally connected to familiar concepts and themes.  Each lesson is a collection of expressions that contain either the vocabulary of the theme or that are commonly used when describing a concept associated with that theme.

I also tried to select expressions that I thought kids would have fun learning and would more likely use and explore because of their sounds or unique connotations.  That's one of the main reasons I included several onomatopoeias throughout the book.


Learning Tasks
Each lesson contains a consistent pattern of reading and thinking exercises that enhances learning by removing any question of unpredictability.  The lessons follow this formula:

  • Page 1: New Expressions, Expressions from Previous Lessons, Activating Knowledge
  • Pages 2-3: Reading passages that contain two examples of each figurative language expression and expressions from previous lessons
  • Page 4-5: Definitions of the expressions and examples of their correct and incorrect usage
  • Page 5: Making Associations
  • Page 6: Finish the Thought
  • Page 7: Same or Opposite, Yes or No?, Is That Right?, or Match It and In Your Own Words

A Note on the Tasks: Your students might find some of the Making Associations tasks to be particularly challenging, as it is possible that more than one expression could be used as an answer for an item.  Urge your students to carefully consider their choices and always select the best expression as a response, not just one that might fit.  A challenge of learning figurative language is understanding the most precise use of a new expression.


Chapter Progression and Content
I selected lesson topics from grade level-appropriate curricular and general interest topics that would be appealing to middle school-aged students.  Chapters progress in difficulty regarding general knowledge, readability, and figurative language abstraction.  Readability is controlled to a general range of 3.5–5.5, although the necessity of some technical vocabulary use increases readability in isolated passages beyond that range.


The SLP as Teacher
Although a student might want to read some of the passages in each lesson to himself, it is important that, initially, you read the passages aloud.  Silent reading doesn't allow for the crucial tone-of-voice and prosodic clues as reading aloud does.  These passages are loaded with figurative language expressions—many of which will be new and initially confusing to students—so when reading aloud, make sure you pour on the inflection and ham it up.  These cues will help your student get the context of the passage so he can better figure out the meanings of the new expressions.

Read each passage all the way through without stopping to explain any of the expressions or context.  Afterward, ask your student if he'd like you to reread the passage aloud as he reads along silently, or if he'd like to read it to himself.  Either way, allow him to stop and ask questions about the expressions and context clues.  Rather than giving direct answers, ask him questions to allow him to probe the text for clues.  For instance, in Lesson 1, Destined for Success!, the new expression old hand is introduced in this passage: "Monique, how did you learn to draw like that?  You're an old hand."  Rather than tell the student what the term old hand means, ask him if anything in the sentence or in the previous sentence gives him any clues about what old hand describes.  Does it have something to do with ability, experience, or skill?  What could make someone an old hand at something?  These questions will help your student become an independent questioner for many future expressions.  The ultimate goal is getting students to not only learn the meanings of the figurative language expressions contained in this book but to generalize new terms and expressions as they are encountered in everyday discourse.

Have fun feasting on figurative language together! — Paul

Beck, I.L, McKeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.