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Lesson Plans
Literal vs. Nonliteral Meanings
3rd–5th Grade
Objective Objective

CCSS Language/Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: L.3.5.a, L.4.5.b
  • Demonstrate understanding of word relationships and nuances in word meanings:
    a.  Distinguish the literal and nonliteral meanings of words and phrases in context
         (e.g., take steps).
  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings:
    b.  Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms.
Materials Materials Needed
Before You Begin
  1. Explain to students that words or phrases can have literal or nonliteral meanings. Tell them that a nonliteral meaning is when a phrase means something other than the exact words in it. Explain that authors sometimes use nonliteral meanings in their writing as a way to make a comparison or an exaggerated statement about something. For example, an author writing that someone is a “night owl” is really saying that this person is awake and active at night (nonliteral meaning) rather than stating that the person turns into an animal at night (literal meaning).
  2. Tell students that you are going to read the story Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish. Ask students to actively listen for the idioms, or nonliteral phrases, that are used in the story.
Introduction Introduction

  1. Begin reading aloud to the class Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish.
  2. As you read, pause to point out one or two forms of figurative language (e.g., “change the towels” on p. 16 or “draw the drapes” on p. 25) that cause confusion for Amelia. Ask students to explain and describe what they really mean, as opposed to Amelia’s literal interpretation of the phrases.
  3. Before you continue with the story, ask students to pay special attention to some of the other forms of figurative language in the story as Amelia encounters them.

Procedure Procedure

  1. Invite students to identify a few of the remaining idioms, or nonliteral phrases, that Amelia encountered in the story.
  2. Write these idioms on a chart, chalkboard or document camera for students to see. Then, next to each phrase, ask students to help you write the actual meaning of the phrase.
  3. Ask students if they have ever heard someone say, “That was a piece of cake!” or “It’s raining cats and dogs out there!” Explain that these expressions are also idioms, which have figurative, rather than literal, meanings. Add these expressions to the list and invite students to offer explanations about their figurative meanings. (For example, “a piece of cake” means “easy” or “easily accomplished,” and “raining cats and dogs” means “strong and heavy rain.”)
  4. Invite students to add to your list of idioms by asking them to think of nonliteral expressions they have heard at home, on television shows or in daily conversations with friends.
  5. As students offer their examples, add them to the class list on the chart or chalkboard until you have 10–15 examples or more. Keep the list on display so students can learn and practice the idioms on their own.
Independent Practice Independent Practice

  1. Give each student a copy of the Illustrating Idioms page and encourage students to choose an idiom from the class list to illustrate. For example, explain that for “raining cats and dogs,” they might show a picture of cats and dogs falling from the sky onto umbrellas!
  2. Encourage students to write a simple explanation for the practical meaning of their phrase. For example, “it costs an arm and a leg” really means “it costs a lot of money.”
  3. Display the finished products on a bulletin board or in a class book titled “Interesting Idioms,” “Understanding Idioms” or “What Are We Really Trying to Say?”

Learning Extension

Learning Extension

  1. For additional practice, invite students to join in this all-class participation game with idioms!
  2. Print and cut out the Wrap-Around Language Idiom cards for each student. (You may need to give some students more than one card if there are cards left over.)
  3. Students take turns calling out their card (“I have…”) and asking for the next card by reading the meaning of a new idiom (“Who has…”). The student with the corresponding idiom responds. The game continues until all cards have been played and all idioms have been read. (An answer key is provided for the teacher, or to help with game play for students who may be struggling.)

View the 3rd–5th grade lesson plan. (Includes all printable materials.)
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