What is a simile?

In Key Stage 2 children learn to recognise the use of figurative language in the texts they are reading. They will also be encouraged to use similes (and perhaps metaphors) in their writing. We explain how to identify similes and encourage your child to use them to improve their written work.

What is a simile?

A simile is a comparison phrase which finds similar characteristics in two objects and compares them, always by using the words 'like' or 'as'. Writers often use similes to make their writing richer and give the reader a really good picture of what is being described. For example:

The spilt milk was like a lake.

This simile is used to show that the amount of milk spilt was large and spread across a surface, just like a lake.

The similes in this passage are highlighted in bold:

The cracked earth was as dry as sandpaper. Suddenly, lightning forked in the sky like fluorescent veins. The sky darkened to a moody grey and thunder roared like an angry lion. Rain sluiced down from the sky, drenching the parched earth.

How are children taught to use similes?

In Key Stage 1, children are encouraged to use adjectives to describe people and places in their stories.

In Key Stage 2, teachers start to guide children in using similes. A good way of doing this, is to show children a picture from a story they are studying. They may ask them to choose something from the picture (for example, the moon) and then ask them what it looks like. Children may come up with ideas like: a plate, a coin or a face. A very simple simile could be: 'The moon was like a face'. The teacher could help the children develop this by asking: How is the moon like a face? They might then come up with a better simile such as: 'The moon was as pale as a face', or 'The moon shone like a happy face'.

Teachers will often ask children to look at poetry and find the similes in poems. This is a good way of encouraging then to use similes when it comes to their own writing. A teacher may develop a child's writing by encouraging the use of similes through marking.
For example, if a child wrote the following:

The girls walked up to the dark house. Cautiously, they went up the old, rickety steps, which creaked. The door was hanging open slightly and all the windows were smashed.

A teacher might encourage the use of similes by writing the following questions next to the writing:

  • What could you compare the creaky sound of the steps to?
  • What could you compare the open door to?

Similes can be difficult to construct and children need plenty of time to think them over.

How are similes and metaphors different?

Similes are often connected to learning about metaphor (a comparison which suggests what something is like by comparing it to something else, but isn't literally true) as they are both forms of figurative language. Metaphors don't use the words 'like' or 'as'.

Simile: My brother is as greedy as a piglet.
Metaphor: My brother is a piglet.