The Lives of Animals: Lesson Set 1 (Metaphors and Meaning)

Metaphors and Meaning

Students explore the use of animals in language (e.g. simile, metaphor, analogy), how attitudes towards animals are reflected in language choice, and how this may influence the audience.

Time Allocation

Two lessons.

It is assumed that students have read the text prior to this activity.


Download the accompanying PowerPoint presentation for this Lesson Set here.

Key Inquiry Questions

  • What is a metaphor, a simile and an analogy?
  • How can using animals symbolically in language give different values to different species?
  • How can the author influence audience perceptions of animals through metaphor and other language choices?

Learning Activities

1. PRE-TEST (Ask)

Lead a general discussion about the concept of ‘metaphor’. Ask students if they are familiar with the concept and where they may have come across it previously. How does it differ to a simile? How are these analogies?

Show the class the following clip:
The art of the metaphor - Jane Hirshfield

2. EXPLORE/DISCUSS (Investigate/Create)

Write: “They went like sheep to the slaughter” on the board. 

Explain that this is a simile used in the text by Elizabeth as it uses the word “like”. 

Ask students how it could be changed to be a metaphor.

Put students in groups of four.

Have students discuss the statement. Prompts could include:

  • Have they heard the line before?
  • What they think this means?
  • Where does Elizabeth use this in the text?
  • How would meaning change if another animal was used? (e.g. tiger or dog)
  • What does it imply about sheep?

Ask groups to give feedback to the wider class. Collate and clarify responses on a whiteboard.

Ask students to think of other common example of linguistic expression using animals, and to share metaphors and similes they know. 

Collate and clarify the responses on a whiteboard (or other shared device). Aim to collate approximately 10-15 examples.

If the class struggles, some suggestions could be:

  • The classroom was a zoo;
  • Watch out, he is a sly fox;
  • He was as filthy as a pig;
  • She was as lazy as a dog;
  • Early bird catches the worm;
  • I smell a rat;
  • The children were monkeys at the park;
  • Turkeys voting for Christmas;
  • Don't be such a chicken. 

3. SHARE (Discuss)

In groups, ask students to identify which of the metaphors & similes listed on the board suggest the animal to the audience in a positive, negative or neutral connotation.

Ask students to discuss the use of animals in metaphor. These questions can be used for guidance:

  • What do these say about animals?
  • What values are assigned to animals through how they are used?
  • Does this differ between species?
  • Do you agree or disagree with particular metaphors?
  • Why might the author use a metaphor to effect the audience and what is assumed about the audience?
  • In the text the author (Coetzee) uses metaphors, what was the purpose of using this? 
  • Why do we use animals in metaphors?
  • How do negative or positive metaphors affect how we view animals?

4. REFLECT (Reflect)

Ask students to write a short piece on the use of animals in language and how the choice of language influences the audience’s perception of animals. Ask students to respond to the question: “Should we should use language that is negative about animals?”


Ask students to read the article in the link and extend their written piece using evidence cited:
Why it’s so offensive when we call people animals

Students can use Quizlet: The Lives of Animals- Language to recall the different language terminology.

Voiceless would be delighted to receive any completed student work to feature on the Voiceless website. Please email any work or feedback to [email protected]