Building Vocabulary Using Analogies

Grade Levels: 6 - 12

Lesson Summary

This lesson is for language arts students in middle or high school. During the lesson, students build their vocabulary by using analogies to help them learn the meanings of grade-appropriate words.


Chalkboard or overhead projector, if you prefer.


  • Students will determine the meanings of new words through the use of analogies.

  • Students will create analogies to build their skills for learning new words.


  1. Lecture

    Explain to students that an analogy shows a relationship between words. Explain that analogies can help them learn new words if they first determine the relationship between the words. Write the following analogy on the chalkboard:

    up:down :: hot:cold

    Help students learn to read analogies by asking them how they would read the analogy above. Explain that the double colon splits the analogy into two parts. The first part is the left-hand side of the double colon, "up:down," and the second part is the right-hand side, "hot:cold." Ask them what relationship they see between both sets of words (antonyms). Explain that the relationship that exists between the words in the first part is exactly the same as the relationship that exists between the words in the second part. One possible way to read this analogy is, "Up is the opposite of down, just as hot is the opposite of cold." Explain to students that there are a number of relationships that can be shown through analogies. Work through the following examples on the chalkboard and have students talk through the analogy and explain the relationship between the words.

    minute:hour :: ounce:pound
    Relationship: part to whole
    "An hour is comprised of minutes, just like a pound is comprised of ounces."

    fork:eat :: shovel:dig
    Relationship: object to function
    "You use a fork to eat, just like you use a shovel to dig."

    glasses:read :: crutches:walk
    Relationship:object to function
    "Glasses can help you read, just like crutches can help you walk."

    Next, brainstorm with students possible types of analogies to help them think of types of relationships they can look for in analogies. Below are some examples of analogy relationships. There are many others, so encourage students to be creative.

    • Part to whole
    • Cause to effect
    • Antonyms
    • Synonyms
    • Definitions
    • Item to category
    • Time sequence
    • Category
    • Object to Use
    • Product to Producer
  2. Guided Practice

    Explain to students that you are going to give them five different analogies to solve. Tell them that each analogy will contain an underlined word for which they have to find the definition. Have students first determine the relationship between the words and write what the relationship is, and then ask them to choose the definition that matches the meaning of the underlined word from the list of choices.

    Write the following five analogies on the chalkboard. (Note that the answer is in bold, and the type of analogy relationship is in parentheses.)

    1. ostentatious:showy :: summit:top (synonym)

      a) flamboyant
      b) energetic
      c) successful
      d) argumentative

    2. impound:seize :: represent:portray (synonym)

      a) unravel
      b) confiscate
      c) resemble
      d) break

    3. wicked:nefarious :: represent:characterize (synonym)

      a) evil
      b) innocent
      c) determined
      d) stereotype

    4. contaminated:pure :: indomitable:feeble (antonym)

      a) rhythmic
      b) weak
      c) clean
      d) unconquerable

    5. shark:scavenger :: spider:carnivore (item to category)

      a) eater of plants
      b) eater of plants and meat
      c) eater of vegetables
      d) eater of meat

    Once students finish the activity, give them the five analogies below. Explain that each analogy has one word that is missing, and they have to choose the correct word to complete each analogy. Then have them identify the relationship expressed in each analogy.

    Write the following analogies on the board. (Note that the answer is in bold, and the type of analogy relationship is in parentheses.)

    1. ________:strict :: comedian:humorous (type to characteristic)

      a) languid
      b) martinet
      c) commentator
      d) artist

    2. geologist:rock :: ________:fish (profession and object of study)

      a) producer
      b) engineer
      c) ichthyologist
      d) composer

    3. sad:________ :: sprinkle:downpour (degree of intensity)

      a) doleful
      b) relaxed
      c) composed
      d) blizzard

    4. ________:trusting :: ecstatic:delighted (synonym)

      a) overjoyed
      b) rambling
      c) credulous
      d) phenomenal

    5. ________:cowardly :: vivid:dull (antonym)

      a) fearful
      b) grandiose
      c) bright
      d) plucky

  3. Assessment

    Evaluate students' understanding by assessing their work on these five analogies. Challenge students further by giving them an analogy vocabulary test with difficult words. Have them determine the relationship between the words in the analogies.

    For further testing, have students use the words they have learned to create their own analogies.

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