Vocab activities for your classroom
Dissecting a Simile with VocabGrabber
In Bob Greenman's "Teachers at Work" column about the value of having students appreciate and create similes, he astutely points out that while writers should avoid using a simile that is a cliche ("smart as a whip," etc.), they should also establish "a comparison with something almost any reader can picture or identify with."
Unfortunately, as teachers, we cannot always assume that our students can picture or identify with the same things as we can. Take, for example, the following New York Times simile that was written to describe a pivotal moment in a boxing match:
Last October, fighting at 5 feet 11 inches and 200 pounds, Shawn won the United States Boxing Organization cruiserweight title with a second-round knockout. He hit his opponent, Josh Green, with a right-handed punch of such accuracy and power that Green's neck wobbled and he seemed to grow invertebrate for a moment, sagging down the ropes like a Dali clock. (Jeré Longman, 2/9/09)
Students may very well be able to identify the simile here — "sagging down the ropes like a Dali clock" — but if they have never seen Salvidor Dali's painting "The Persistence of Memory," the simile may be lost on them.
One solution to help students make sense of this simile is to copy and paste it into VocabGrabber for a quick analysis. Upon clicking "Grab Vocabulary" and viewing the "List View" of the top five words in the paragraph, we gain an interactive list of vocabulary words that range from boxing jargon to science and art trivia.
But once students click on "invertebrate" in the list and learn that it refers to an "animal lacking a backbone" and on Dali to learn that he was a surrealist painter, they begin to gain the clues they need to put this simile puzzle together. Finally, if students right-click (control-click on a Mac) on Dali's name in the VT word map and choose "Search Images" in the drop-down menu, they will instantly experience that "aha" moment and get this writer's message when they spot the "sagging" clocks that are draped over various objects, just like the boxer Josh Green's body was sagging down the ropes.