Metaphor as Technology, Module 1: Teaching Instructions
Metaphor as Technology for Thinking

Though students may feel that the ideas offered in Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By are too simple to need much reiteration, in fact they have quite a difficult time (and need lots of practice) in picking out metaphors and then thinking about what each metaphor highlights and hides. Many have a difficult time simply understanding what it means to highlight or hide the features of something. I ask them in class to picture themselves reading a text for homework with a highlighting pen in their hands, and then I ask them, "what do you do with that pen?" "Highlighting" is itself a metaphorical way of talking about what metaphors do to our thinking. Here is a handout summarizing Metaphors We Live By.

Blake's A Poison Tree also provides good practice, since it takes the metaphor "anger = fire" or "anger = explosive" ("He burns me up!" "I just exploded at him!") and rewrites it into "anger = a plant" (the main character in this poem waters his anger to make it grow). Whereas the "anger = fire, explosive" metaphor hides the extent to which we exert control over our own anger, Blake's plant metaphor highlights our responsibility: your anger is something you nurture and foster, just as watering a plant makes it grow.


First-year college students / AP English (high school)

To raise the level for second- to third-year college students, add Lakoff's study of anger:

In Lakoff's case study, "Anger," Lakoff first shows that, as can be seen in our typical speech habits, anger "has a conceptual structure": that is, given the metaphors we use in common, ordinary sentences, we are relying on models that determine how we conceive of anger -- what it does, how it works. Lakoff then asks, "How do such conceptual structures affect our lives?" He then shows, based on interviews with men, that metaphors for anger plus metaphors for sexuality cause men to deeply -- that is, unconsciously -- believe that rape is o.k. He shows in effect why we live in a culture beset by sexual violence. One might wish to show, in conjunction with this chapter, Sut Jhally's Dreamworlds 2, a video arguing that the music videos played on MTV value and valorize images of rape. (One should be warned that Jhally's video is disturbing.)

The case study of anger shows that it is indeed metaphors we live by rather than our consciously held belief systems, and students may wonder and worry about their own agency in this system. Sometimes faith in one's own conscious control can take the form of resistance to this material and can look like incomprehension. It thus may be valuable to emphasize throughout that awareness of the ideas upon which ordinary language depends is one way of taking control of one's language and one's life.


That students be able to identify metaphors in ordinary speech.


Ask students to write "ordinary" sentences about "love" or some other emotion and then collectively, together, identify the metaphors in those sentences.


Use these "practice sheets" to discern whether students can identify metaphors.

  • A practice sheet using sentences they will have already encountered in reading Metaphors We Live By;
  • A harder practice sheet I hand out in class with answers given here.

Answers to the Harder Practice Sheet:

1. Build up to your main point as you write your essay.

writing = building an edifice

hides ephemerality and revisability of texts

2. Don’t risk your grade by saying anything controversial.

life = a gambling game; education = a gambling game; grades = a gambling game; speech [in class] = a gambling game

hides that grades are earned by work rather than chance

3. Finally, she found her prince.

love = a quest; love = a fairytale; men = princes

hides that love can grow gradually while one is not searching; hides that men are human beings


4. Your idea about drug abuse points the way to a cure.

solving problems = journey; drug addition = illness

hides that passivity is sometimes necessary for solving problems

highlights drug addicts' need for medical treatment, but perhaps obscures some of their responsibility.