Differentiated Instruction and Critical Thinking

Manipulate the Metaphor to See How It Changes Meaning

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Manipulate the Metaphor to See How It Changes Meaning

  • College
  • # of Students
  • Graduating Seniors
  • % Graduating
  • Apple University
  • 10,500
  • 2,009
  • 19
  • Orange College
  • 20,223
  • 3,189
  • 16
  • Banana Academy
  • 5,600
  • 1405
  • 25
  • Grape Institute
  • 15,171
  • 2,335
  • 15

Presenting like this, which one looks better for graduating?

Presented like this, which one looks better for graduating?

Conceptual Metaphor

  • Concept: Ideas are food.
  • All this paper has in it are raw facts, half-baked ideas, and warmed-over theories.
  • There are too many facts here for me to digest them all.
  • I just can’t swallow that claim.
  • Let me stew over that for a while.
  • That’s food for thought.
  • She devoured the book. (p. 36)
  • Let’s let that idea simmer on the back burner for a while.
  • Concept: The mind is a computer
  • He is hard-wired for action.
  • My mental software no longer works.
  • I can’t quite retrieve that memory.
  • I haven’t yet processed what he said. (p. 113)
  • Did you store away what I told you?

What Do Conceptual Metaphors Mean for the Classroom?

  • Explain conceptual metaphors frequently. “Learning is a journey” -- Do your students know what you mean by this? How about, “Inventors are forward-thinking?” -- Why do we think of invention as progress? Do inventors ever retard development?
  • What was the conceptual metaphor that assisted the Nazi Party’s rise to power prior to World War II? What was the conceptual metaphor used by Henry Ford to develop his revolutionary ideas about assembly-line manufacturing, mass production of affordable automobiles, and paying workers high wages? What are the competing conceptual metaphors for dark matter, anti-matter, and what happened during the birth of the universe?

As you guide students’ metaphorical thinking, take the time to identify conceptual comparisons:

  • What is the protagonist’s conceptual metaphor for life, and how is that different from he antagonist’s position?
  • What are the conceptual metaphors used by both sides of the debate on global warming?
  • By what conceptual metaphor do the leaders in Northern Sudan govern Darfur, and is there any hope of changing that metaphor so we can end the death and destruction resulting from this modern-day genocide?
  • How did Nelson Mandela change the operative metaphors of South Africa?
  • What is the new, post-Hurricane Katrina conceptual metaphor for New Orleans?

Ask Students to Practice Explaining Metaphors

  • Metaphor: “Google it.”
  • Definition: Google is a common Internet search engine. Instead of the longer statement, “Go to the Internet, find a search engine, and look for the topic using that search engine,” people shorten it to something that represents that whole process---the name of a common search engine, Google.

Make the Implicit, Explicit

  • What does it mean to triangulate something?
  • If our thinking is parallel to someone else’s thinking, what do we mean?
  • The character said that life was like a carnival Tilt-a-Whirl. What did she mean by that?
  • Kira just said she going to be toast tonight with these grades. Is this good or bad for her?

Descriptions With and Without Metaphors

  • Friendship Family
  • Infinity Imperialism
  • Solving for a variable Trust
  • Euphoria Mercy
  • Worry Trouble
  • Obstructionist Judiciary Honor
  • Immigration Homeostasis
  • Balance Temporal Rifts
  • Economic Principles Religious fervor
  • Poetic License Semantics
  • Heuristics Tautology
  • Embarrassment Knowledge


  • Ask students to identify multiple connotations of words. Consider using these terms: cook, light, fire, wall, bleed, read, cold, plant, shade, blanket, sound, wave, mask, book, race, curve, and table. Notice that changing the tense and/or parts of speech shifts the meaning in many cases: “He ran a good campaign.” “Let’s give it a dry run.” “Are you running out of steam?” “Let’s table this conversation until later.” “She sat at the table for dinner.” “The table displays the empirical data for our conclusions.”

Same Concept, Multiple Domains

  • The Italian Renaissance: Symbolize curiosity, technological advancement, and cultural shifts through mindmaps, collages, graphic organizers, paintings, sculptures, comic strips, political cartoons, music videos, websites, computer screensavers, CD covers, or advertisements displayed in the city subway system.
  • The economic principle of supply and demand: What would it look like as a floral arrangement, in the music world, in fashion, or dance? Add some complexity: How would each of these expressions change if were focusing on a bull market or during a recession?
  • Geometric progression, the structure of a sentence, palindromes, phases of the moon, irony, rotation versus revolution, chromatic scale, Boolean logic, sine/cosine, meritocracy, tyranny, feudalism, ratios,the relationship between depth and pressure, musical dynamics, six components of wellness, and the policies of Winston Churchill can all be expressed in terms of: food, fashion, music, dance, flora, fauna, architecture, minerals, weather, vehicles, television shows, math, art, and literature.

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