Physical Metaphors

I have the pleasure of teaching a Language and Literature class of lovely, chatty and very social Year 9 students, 18 males and 6 females, all very curious, perceptive young people who are developing as analytical thinkers and soulful writers. Currently, we are engaging in a unit titled Intertextuality Study through the key concept of relationships, related concepts theme and intertextuality, and the global context identities and relationships. 

SOI: The connections we make between diverse texts provide us with multiple perspectives on themes within relationships.

In my bid to provide as much student choice as possible and to respond to the voices in my classroom, we decided on a class text to collaboratively analyze in order to deepen analytical skills. Students then chose their own texts to focus on. Most importantly driving all my planning is the need to create holistic learning experiences where the head, heart, and hands of students are involved in the learning process. Our class text choice was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (all 24 students were silently engrossed in the text with the occasional exclamation of “oh snap” or “oh s***” – I definitely recommend this text for promoting a love of reading). When we had finished reading, reflecting and sharing our analysis students created a character Spotify playlist to show their depth of understanding of the style employed by the author to develop the characters.

I was inspired by Dan Ryder’s Medium Post: Making Meaning in Minutes, that employs the DEEPdt approach, to employ a slightly modified approach of this DEEPdt experience to engage students in going deeper into the metaphors in the text and equipping them with the skills to apply this to their chosen texts.

DEEPdt Image
DEEP Design Thinking Process

Our Learning Goal:

  • Create a metaphor that brings the concrete into the abstract.
  • Using a concrete experience, create an abstract idea in the form of a physical metaphor.

Step 1:

Students chose a character to focus on and in these groups, equipped with butcher paper and markers, discussed the character in order to “get in the zone”.

Guiding questions students could use as a foundation their own questions:

  • What ideas/morals are represented by this character?
  • What is their point of view?
  • In hindsight, what does Jason Reynolds want us to understand about life and what it means to be human through this character’s journey?

Step 2:

Students then spent 5-minutes building on from these ideas and transferring their thinking to how they can create a physical metaphor of their chosen character.

  • How might we demonstrate our understanding of what the character represents through a physical metaphor?
  • How might we demonstrate our understanding of what the author wants to communicate through this character by making a physical metaphor of what they represent in the text?

Step 3 – Discovery Phase

Discover: Find the cracks in the system or experience, find the essence of the purpose of this character, there lies your opportunity for design.

Students identified 3 keywords and/or phrases that reveal the essence of this character. They jotted these on a sticky note and stuck it to their desk. 

Then using their own words and/or phrase translated these into word/phrases they are familiar with. Using a different colored sticky note, they jotted these down and stuck them on their desk just underneath the correlating first sticky note.



Step 4 – Empathy Phase:

Empathise: Be present, find understanding and self-connect with the text creator and the audience. Stay here as long as possible, think deeply about the meaning of the text or the lessons we can learn from this character.

Students divided an A4 piece of scrap paper into 4 sections and engaged in the empathy process of Say – Think – Do – Feel.

We discussed how words are thoughts and feelings in action, these thoughts, feelings, and words lead to action that results in feelings and actions from ourselves and others and so on and so on. Cycles, cycles, cycles.

Empahty Phase Correct


Step 5 – Experiment Phase:

Experiment: Prototype to learn, fail fast, iterate based on feedback. Collaborate to create.

Students then had 15-minutes and access to a collection of random resources including scissors, glue, tinfoil, playdough, plasticine, cardboard, wires, etc. to collaborate and create their physical metaphors of what their chosen character represents in the text.

Step 6 – Produce Phase:

Produce:  Test and collect feedback on the prototype. Return to experiment phase for iterations. Reflect on your impact.

Students once again divided an A4 piece of scrap paper into 4 sections and engaged in the feedback process with another group:

  • Things we like most
  • Things that could be improved
  • Things I don’t understand
  • New things to consider

Feedback Sheet

Students then took the feedback from another group on board and finalized their physical metaphors.

Step 7 – Creator’s Statement:

Using all they had discussed and created through this DEEPdt process, students then collaboratively developed a creator’s statement for their physical metaphor that addressed the following questions:

  • How does your physical metaphor demonstrate your understanding of the message we can receive from your chosen character?
  • Think of three choices you have made in creating this physical metaphor. Explain and justify why you have made these choices.
  • What principled action can you now take as a result of engaging in this process and what principled action would you like others to take as a result of viewing your work?

Students responses were quite frankly astounding and moved a few of their teachers to tears.

One that I particularly was impressed by was from a couple of boys who have been learning to not make poor relationship choices and are on a journey to understand just who they are as young men. They focussed on the main character of the text and were able to independently draw some profound understanding and make very wise connections.

Example 1Example 2

Another group I thought showed a very profound understanding of our need to evaluate the responsibilities that rest on our shoulders, and always consider the responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of others.

Example 3Example 4All our Physical Metaphors and Creator’s Statements:

Our Director of Positive Education observed the students reflections and commented saying “this is student wellbeing made visible”. My reflection on this response is that yes, this is visible wellbeing, because when we teach holistically – the head, heart, and hands of the child – our subjects can actually become a powerful vehicle for student wellbeing.

The Google Slide Deck for this learning experience, images have been copied from Making Meaning in Minutes Medium post:

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