How to Teach Personification for Kids

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For some magical reason, personification captures students’ imagination like few other literary tools – a dividend that may ensure your success in teaching it. Once they get the hang of it, their eyes light up as they joyously “turn nouns upside down” by personifying them. Personification attribute qualities of a person to an object or something that isn’t human. For example, “The thunder grumbled and the wind roared as the storm raced through the city.”

  • Provide students with a definition of personification: it is a figure of speech in which inanimate objects are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form.

  • Explain that personification is a figure of speech, meaning that while it is a literary tool, it should not be taken literally. It is used to describe something in colorful terms so that others can relate to and understand it, perhaps to emphasize a point.

  • Surprise students with the guess that they probably have used personification without even knowing it. Give them some examples they can relate to, such as, “My cell phone throws a little fit every time I hit the ‘Power’ button,” and, “That math test that I didn’t study for sat on my desk, glaring at me.”

  • Point out the subjects in both sentences and the human traits assigned to those subjects. In the first example in step three, the subject is “cell phone” and the human trait is “throws a little fit.” In the second example, the subject is “math test” and the human traits are “sat” and “glaring.” Remind students that though we may frequently use such words in speech, a phone cannot literally throw a tantrum any more than a test can glare. Only people can do these things – hence the term “personification.”

  • Direct students to your whiteboard or chalkboard. Ask them to provide you with a noun that is an inanimate object. Let’s say that the word is “car.” Together, write a sentence to personify the word car. Be careful here, as a car can “start,” “roll” and “sputter” but it cannot “scream for attention.” Saying that it "screams for attention" is personification: “The car was so old and rundown that it screamed for attention.”

  • Give students a worksheet with sentences containing personification. Ask them to circle the subject and underline the human trait. Try some creative exercises as well, as detailed on the University of Missouri website (ethemes.missouri.edu).

  • On the back of the worksheet, ask students to personify five words, such as: “snow,” “popcorn,” “time,” “fire” and “backpack.”

  • After a reasonable amount of time, review both sides of the worksheet as a class. Encourage students to suggest other words to personify the five objects. Their ideas should leap right off the paper (ideas that "leap" represent another example of personification).

References

  • The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors
  • The Little, Brown Handbook; H. Ramsey Fowler, et al.
  • Photo Credit Cathy Yeulet/Hemera/Getty Images Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
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