“Welcome to the Simile Challenge! You are competing against one another to create up to five similes. The cards in my hand have words and phrases that you’ll use to build your similes. The card you choose will give you the A part of your simile. Your job, is to come up with a word or phrase to fill the B part (Thank you, Nancie Atwell, for this comparison building language!).”
As I’m describing today’s challenge activity, I look out on a captive audience. They are hanging on every. single. word. This never happens, I think, and then continue.
“Use your notes from yesterday to remind you of how you can structure your comparisons. Remember that the B part of the simile tells your reader how you feel about the A part. Your similes need to be creative, easy to understand, of course, legible!”
I survey the group again. Still captive. Pencils at the ready. They are starting to squirm. I hear a little “you’re goin’ down” trash talk in one corner and can’t help but smirk. I have one last piece of information to share before it’s game on.
“There are two final pieces of information that you MUST know. One, you cannot draw your card to begin building your next simile until you’ve finished writing the entire line. Two, when you finish, you have to find where I am in the room, return your card to me, and draw your next card to continue. You’ll have ten minutes to create your similes. It’s not a race to finish, but you will be up and moving. Are you ready?”
A resounding, “YES!” came back to me. Not a single question. They were ready.
I walked around the room and had each student draw his or her first card, face down. When the final card was drawn, I yelled, “Your time starts NOW!”
And they were off.
Eighteen kids completely engaged in not just writing similes, but trying to one up their friends and table mates. Light trash talk peppered the room. Giggles were paired with sighs of frustration at their first draw, but not a single student complained or refused to participate.
The first “I’m done with my first one!” shout came from across the room, and I was off and moving. I’d decided when I put this activity together that I was really going to keep them moving, this meant that I would be moving. A lot.
When I heard that proclamation and saw who was coming my way, I pivoted and ran in the opposite direction.
“Hey, get back here!”
“You have to get to me, remember?! Better get moving!”
They were chasing me. For cards with words on them. To create similes.
We laughed. I raced around the room, showing off what remains of my fakes and spin moves left over from years of playing and coaching basketball. They started to work together to trap me so I couldn’t slip away.
They were actively engaged in not just thinking about similes, but in strategizing how to catch me, how to catch the words. It was glorious.
“Where did she go?” one of my students wondered aloud. I’m little, so I blend, and today I was fast too, so finding me in a room full of kids whose height eclipsed mine years ago was an extra challenge. I loved every minute of it.
When the timer went off, my hair was a mess, some of the kids were breathing heavily, all of us had laughed, and I had a room full of kids who played with a writing technique without a single complaint. It was hard work, both because of the physical need to move quickly to chase down an aging shooting guard, long past her college days, and because they were engaged in the deep, meaningful work of creating comparisons that communicate a clear and thoughtful message.
It was messy. It was silly. It was perfect.