For many parents across the globe who already homeschooled their kids, COVID-19 didn’t change their lives much. For most of us, though, this pandemic has left us finding ourselves in new roles. Suddenly we’re fully in charge of our kids’ education. Now, instead of just helping with the occasional bits and pieces of homework, we’re doing most of the legwork and playing “teacher” nearly every day. Seriously. Did you ever expect to be the one teaching your kid to read?
What are you struggling with? What part of your daily schooling seems to be your downfall? If the answer is, “All of it, Scary Mommy. All of it!” We feel you and we agree. We can’t even get these kids to sit still. If you’re struggling with the English Language Arts part of your day, we’re here to help. Let’s do a lesson on hyperbole — how to explain it, teach it, and some examples you can share with your little ones. (You’re on your own for “new math,” though.)
What is Hyperbole?
Hyperbole is part of something called “figurative speech.” Figurative is the opposite of “literal.” Not literal the way you use it when you plead to turn the heat up and say, “It’s literally freezing” when it’s only 55 degrees outside. The real kind of literal language is saying it’s freezing when the temperature is below 32 degrees. Saying it’s freezing when it’s not is hyperbole. Or saying you bought a “ton” of oranges when you really only bought three pounds. At its simplest, hyperbole is exaggeration.
Sometimes the best way to understand figurative speech is to see examples of it. Here are variations of some popular hyperbolic speech your kids have probably heard before.
“I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.”
“I have a ton of homework.” “I’ve told you a million times.” “The baby pooped a ton.” “This toy is as heavy as a house.” “Cry me a river.” “Those pants are smokin’ hot.” “I have a million things to do today.” “I’m going to freeze to death!” “I can run faster than the wind.” “I haven’t seen you in a billion years.” “This is the worst thing that has ever happened.” “His smile is about a mile wide.” “Christmas is never going to get here!” “My dad is the strongest man on earth.” “I have the cutest puppy on the face of the planet.” “That’s the funniest joke I’ve ever heard.” “She is the sweetest person you’ll ever meet.”
How to Teach Hyperbole
One of the best ways to teach hyperbole is just to be obnoxious about it. Every time your kid uses it, call them out. But, be kind. “Could you really eat a horse?” “Do you really think you’ll freeze to death if I don’t turn the thermostat up past 72 degrees?” “Do you think that book weighs 2,000 or 4,000 pounds — literally weighs tons? Or is it just heavier than other books?”
Of course, there are other ways as well. You can look for poems or song lyrics with hyperbolic speech. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes it’s easy to see a simile or metaphor and think it’s hyperbolic. Remember Maroon 5’s “Stereo Hearts?” The line, “‘Cause the last girl that left me left a couple cracks” is a great use of hyperbole. His heart wasn’t physically cracked. It just felt like it. Later, he sings, “‘Cause holding grudges over love is ancient artifacts.” While it’s not ancient artifacts and could be seen as hyperbolic exaggeration, most people would argue that it’s actually a metaphor.
Looking for a great way to find hyperbole in poetry that is at a level your kids will understand? Try flipping through any of your Shel Silverstein books, like “A Light In The Attic” or “Where The Sidewalk Ends.” If your kids are more visual learners, consider having them draw, paint, or collage some popular hyperboles. For example: Would a “ton of cash” be a stack or would it be a pile? Would that pile fit in a wagon or the back of a pick-up truck or inside a dump truck? If a person is as tall as a beanstalk, what would they look like?
Living is Learning When It comes to Hyperbole
Most people learn best by experience. As we mentioned above, one of the best ways to teach hyperbole is to pay dogged attention to everything your kids say or hear throughout the day and take time to point out the hyperboles. When there’s a “ton of” something, take them outside and have them try to lift your car… which probably still weighs less than a ton. As you stumble upon more hyperbole (and you’ll hear plenty), take time to find other ways to demonstrate what those extreme exaggerations might look like.
Hyperbole Lesson Plan
Shel Silverstein’s poems are filled with literary exaggerations you can use to create exercises for your kids. After explaining what hyperbole is, choose a poem, and go through it with your child. Ask them to pick a sentence that uses hyperbole. Talk about it and what it would look like on paper. Then tell them to draw a picture of what comes to mind when they read the phrase. You can even make a game out of it. Have your kids pick out all the hyperbolic phrases in the poem. After they’ve drawn a picture of each one, jumble all of the drawings around. Read one of the hyperboles out loud and give them 10 seconds to find the picture it matches. This activity engages their understanding and helps them to better grasp how language is used to enhance meaning within a story.
More Hyperbole Examples in Literature
- In Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No.”
- In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy, and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.”
- In Flanner O’Connor’s Parker’s Back: “The skin on her face was as thin and drawn as tight as the skin of onion, and her eyes were gray and sharp like the points of two picks.”
- In Jan Gleiter’s Paul and Babe the Blue Ox: “Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue. Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard. People had to wait until sunup to find out what folks were talking about the night before.”
- In Mark Twain’s Old Times on the Mississippi: “I was helpless. I did not know what in the world to do. I was quaking from head to foot, and could have hung my hat on my eyes, they stuck out so far.”
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