Write Your Own Rhymes

Elevating Rhymes with Figurative Language

Few elements of writing separate great writers from average writers as clearly as the intelligent use of metaphors and similes. A well-placed simile can get a reader smiling faster than a politician on debate night. Ironically, most students, especially those who listen to hip-hop, are very familiar with how metaphors and similes sound in a song but struggle to understand the idea of figurative language in the classroom.

In our experience, very few students will instinctively use a metaphor or simile in the basic vocabulary lesson mentioned above. If one does-terrific! Use that students work to introduce the concept. If not, this lesson plan should help.

Step 1: Teach the concept
Metaphor a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them; a creative comparison

Simile a metaphor-like comparison that uses the word like or as
Step 2: Model each type of figurative language
Great rap lyrics are built upon metaphors and similes. Rappers use similes to bring their rhymes to life, and they are usually the phrases that stay with you long after you hear an amazing verse. A good simile can transform an average piece of writing into one that's exceptional.

There are plenty of examples from popular rap lyrics. You could even ask students to find their favorites as an assignment. Here are two examples:
I'm full strength like a Cyclops's eye drops,
I got support like high-tops.
- Ugly Duckling, Left Behind.

In these two lines, Ugly Duckling rapper Dizzy Dustin combines two creative similes with a mythological allusion. His use of figurative language brings these lines to life. How powerful is he? About as strong as Visine would have to be for a giant one-eyed monster. How much love does he gets from fans? More support than ankle-covering basketball shoes. As Dizzy Dustin knows, great similes create vivid mental images.

Im cooler than a polar bears toenails.
- Big Boi, Atliens

In this last case, Big Boi (from the group Outkast) could have just said, I'm cool, and that would have been fine. After all, hes a famous rapper. He also could have just said, I'm cooler than a polar bear, and that would have been a great metaphor. But Big Boi, being a talented lyricist, took his writing to the next level and came up with a metaphor that helps us imagine the coldest extremity of that cold-weather animal. That's powerful writing.

Practice using figurative language
Have students complete the following independently or break into teams and make lists for each:
Similes: I'm as sharp as a(n) _____________
I keep it fresh like _____________
Metaphors: Life is a(n) _____________
School is a(n) _____________

The great thing about these exercises is that there are no wrong answers. If a student can back up why she said that life is a hair dryer, then that's a correct answer.

Step 4: Write
Using the worksheet Flocab Formula for Figurative Language Rhymes, students can create their own rhymes. See the worksheet here.

Step 5: Expand to other figurative language

On our blog, we've got examples of other types of figurative language found in rap music, from alliteration to zeugma.