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Analogies that teach

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analogies that teach, Kris Amerikos


 How do you teach unfamiliar terms or topics? 

Most experienced teachers will answer, they try to connect the new information with examples students are conversant with. They may compare things that are similar and sometimes not very similar, highlight similarities or differences to explain and make the students understand the topic or idea. Simply put, they use analogies.


Analogies are not only part of our everyday language but a valuable teaching strategy as well. Analogies use comparisons like a simile - when you use ‘like’ or ‘as’ to make a comparison (as busy as a bee) or a metaphor – when you say something or someone is something else (icy stare) however they are more complex as they not only compare but also try to explain and clarify. (Children are like plants, you have to nurture them, feed them, be patient and give them time to grow and bloom.)

Using Analogies in class

Teachers should evaluate the topic and use comparisons or parallels that are relevant, familiar and culturally appropriate.

I once introduced ‘Spaghetti’ as ‘Italian noodles’ to some of my ESL student from Far East Asia. Trying to explain pasta, a dish they were not familiar with would have led to confusion and students would have discarded the information as being irrelevant as soon as the class was over.


Familiarity not only improves learning but also ensures better retention.

 You can also open up the discussion and encourage students to tap into their prior knowledge, analyse and try to come up with comparisons of their own. Their analogies may be too farfetched at times, but they will give you an opportunity to understand and assess student’s level of comprehension and work with them to re-examine and revise their interpretations.

Be prepared to improvise, remember analogies are both a teaching and a learning tool.

Glynn, Takahashi and Mayo opined that analogies enable students to establish meaningful relationships between what they already know and what they are trying to learn. However, analogies built without any systematic approach can be confusing and incomprehensible. In order to prevent this, teachers should use analogies as a well thought out strategy that helps students learn certain concepts in a meaningful way.

The TWA model

The TWA model is based on the systematic construction of analogies and consists of six steps

  1. The introduction of the target (unfamiliar) concept
  2. The reviving of students’ memories on the analogue (familiar) situation
  3. The identification of the subject-relevant features between the analogue and the target
  4. The mapping of the similarities between the analogue and the target
  5. The identification of where the analogy breaks down
  6. The drawing of conclusions about the nature of the target and making an evaluation.

 When using analogies Teachers introduce the unfamiliar concept and draw on student’s real-world experiences to map similarities. However, dissimilarities between analogue and target can lead to confusion or misunderstanding. The teacher should gauge the gaps in a student’s understanding and evaluate the effectiveness of the analogy.

  Analogies are an effective instructional device if used correctly. They can help improve student’s critical and creative thinking. Teachers need to have a good understanding of their student’s abilities. Analogies that are not level-appropriate or too abstract would be unproductive and lead to a diminished learning experience.

 What strategies are you using to teach unfamiliar topics?



Neşe DUMAN,  Ayşegül ŞEYİHOĞLU, İbrahim Emrah ÖZGÜRBÜZ , (2017)  A Sample Application of TWA Model in Geography,

   -written by Preeti Lamba

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