Character Metaphors

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Several years ago I was searching for an activity to help students think metaphorically.  For their writing to reflect a deeper understanding of characters in literature and people in history, students needed to grasp the background, motivations, attitudes, concerns, and general characteristics of them.  Thus, I created the Character Metaphor project.


Materials needed to complete this project:

  1. Unused recycled paper book covers
  2. Gingerbread Man template
  3. Couple of boxes of old magazines (ones with lots of pictures)
  4. Glue

Project Description for English and History

Metaphors are comparisons that show how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in one important way. Metaphors are a way to describe something. Authors use them to make their writing more interesting or entertaining.  Unlike similes that use the words “as” or “like” to make a comparison, metaphors state that something is something else.

In this project, students will create a Character/Person Metaphor using a large gingerbread template and photos from magazines.  Have students choose a character from the novel you are reading or a period of history you are studying.  This character/person should be one that is so fascinating that they’d enjoy learning a bit more about him or her. Be sure to provide a sign up list for the characters/persons, trying to avoid lots of duplication.  Then follow the steps below:

  1. Research this character. Using sites like Spark Notes or Cliff Notes and other traditional searches, learn as much as you can about your character.  Use similar sites to research information about the historic person.
  2. Take notes on anything you find unusual, entertaining, or interesting. Notes can be taken in outline form, bulleted lists, or paragraph form.  Notes can be divided into categories, as well.  Consider categories such as childhood and ancestry, formative years, goals and dreams, significant accomplishments, important people in his/her life, and later years.  Look for nouns that explain more about your character as you conduct your research.  Integrate the two subjects together to have students highlight all nouns in two colors – one for concrete nouns, one for abstract nouns.
  3. Using old magazines, pictures, greeting cards, drawings, or clip art, choose pictures of objects or things that describe something interesting about your character. At first, collect all pictures that have any meaning at all for your character/person.  Sorting through lots of pictures will make it easier to put together a good project later. Consider body parts as you do this.
  4. Glue the pictures in collage form on the area that best suits that picture. If the character/historic person is stubborn, glue pictures of rocks on their head. And so on.
  5. On the back of the gingerbread person, have students write a description of why you chose that metaphor for your character and why you put it in that particular place. Again, the rock is a metaphor used to describe the character’s stubbornness.OPTIONAL:  Have students write these descriptions on a blog with a scanned photo of their completed character/historic person metaphor.  Students could be required to comment on one another’s metaphor to increase understanding of the characters/persons.  Also, consider using technology tools such as Gliffy to create the “gingerbread-style man” online.Ceiling_literature_088

Here are a few suggestions/tips to get you thinking about characters/historic people for this project:

  • Head/Face/Mouth – Think about their intellect, beauty, and other mental and physical descriptions.  What do they think about often?  (Donald Trump, pics of money)
  • Hands – How do they use their hands? (Thomas Jefferson, pic of Declaration of Independence or Monticello)
  • Heart – What are their feelings, attitudes, and concerns for other things or people? (Atticus Finch, pic of something equally black and white)
  • Feet – Where do they go? What do they do?  (Mother Theresa, pic of India)

Here are a couple of examples from The Great Gatsby.  Of course, these use old-fashioned cut and paste skills.  But this activity made a huge difference in helping students to think more metaphorically.


Notice in one of my student’s character metaphors, Jay Gatsby’s head is full of “Daisy”, heart and hands are filled with large homes and money, and his feet are swift to provide alcohol to those with such a desire.  One of my favorite metaphors from this class (not pictured) was a picture of a snow globe of a family glued on the head of Jay Gatsby.  This student explained this how the snow globe was a metaphor for Gatsby’s life’s ambition.  But his was a wish for a moment in time and that it was only perfect from the outside looking in.  This student explained that such places only exist in snow globes and upon actually discovering this, Gatsby’s world was destroyed and thus his reason for existing, as well.

Wow!  Students will love this activity.  You’ll be thrilled with the results!

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