’Metaphor in the Curriculum’ opens up university research to schools

A new online schools resource and app, all about metaphor, have been launched by researchers at the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow.

The materials aim to “open the minds” of secondary school pupils, “put ideas into their heads” and “build up” their knowledge of the English language – metaphorically speaking.

Called “Metaphor in the Curriculum” (or MetaphorIC), the resource can be found at www.glasgow.ac.uk/metaphoric and is freely available to all. The app is available in the Google Play and App Stores online. The research project was funded by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council).

“One thing we found while talking to teachers in schools was that some pupils really struggle with understanding and identifying metaphor in literature, let alone in more ‘everyday’ texts such as newspapers,” said Dr Wendy Anderson, lead researcher of the Metaphor in the Curriculum project.

She added: “Researchers have previously suggested that between 8% and 18% of communication in English is metaphorical so its importance in our language cannot be overestimated. Understanding how metaphors work can help pupils both to unlock the language of literary texts and to gain a greater understanding of the ways in which the language they speak relates to their perception of the world.”

The University of Glasgow team worked closely with English teachers to find the best way of bringing university research into the classroom. The website and app include a version of the Metaphor Map of English, which shows the metaphorical links that have been identified between different areas of meaning. These links can be from the Anglo-Saxon period right up to the present day, so the map covers 1,300 years of the English language.

“This allows us to track metaphorical ways of thinking and expressing ourselves over more than a millennium,” said Dr Anderson

The teaching materials were designed with advice from teachers and other educational professionals for secondary teachers to use with their classes in order to help pupils to identify and understand metaphor in English. They are intended to help people to recognise and understand the mental connections that are being made when we use metaphors, to identify the area of meaning that the metaphor has come from, and the area of meaning to which vocabulary has been transferred. In one example found in the Metaphor Map of English, “an enlightening documentary” uses the word enlightening, which has been transferred from the area of LIGHT into the area of INTELLIGIBILITY).

The teaching materials are freely available for from the website and they cover introductions to metaphor, poetry, prose, non-fiction and creative writing. The app also includes ten interactive quizzes that cover topics from nature to emotions to war.

While the materials have been designed with the Scottish curriculum in mind, they will be suitable further afield. The materials have wider applications beyond schools too – the creative writing exercises can spark off ideas in writers of any age and the introductory and non-fiction exercises show how to unpick the ways in which we are prompted, by language, to view the world around us.