A study of metaphor as a mode of instruction

Marguerite Hansen Nelson, Fordham University


The purpose of this study was to test the conceptual claims made for metaphors as instructional media. Lessons were presented on videotape to 195 students in intact classes from grades 3 through 6 in a suburban school. One lesson provided a literal explanation while the other offered a metaphoric elaboration in which the parts of an atom were compared to a jelly doughnut. There was also a control group that received no relevant intervention between the pre- and post-measures. Based on the potential contribution of metaphors to cognition, motivation, and memory, it was hypothesized that the group taught with a metaphor would remember the content better, retain more over time, and have a more positive attitude than those taught with only a literal explanation. Considering the function of imagery and the mapping of structural relations, it was expected that those instructed with the metaphor would choose the description and diagram that were accurate. One-way analyses of variance were computed. The results indicated a significant effect of treatment on posttest scores, retention test scores, assessment of worth, and attribution of learning to the metaphor. However, post hoc tests revealed that it was only in the attribution of learning to the metaphor that there was a significant difference between the two lesson-treatment groups. When the analysis was limited to fifth and sixth graders, there was only a significant difference between the control and metaphor groups in attitude. The ability to choose the correct description or diagram was not affected by either treatment. Factorial analyses to investigate interactions of treatment with grade, gender, reading group, and SES offered additional findings that need to be explored in further research. Treatment interacted with reading ability on the verbal image item, with grade level on total attitude, and with SES on the ability to make inferences. However, none of these confirmed the hypotheses with confidence. Teaching the content had an impact on learning, but the metaphor did not make a significant difference in learning even though it was recognized as an asset. It was concluded that the noninteractive nature of the videotaped lessons and the imposition of the metaphor instead of the students generating their own may have interfered with the realization of the conceptual claims for the pedagogical potential of metaphors. Further research needs to be pursued with live lessons in which the learners participate in the lesson and the development of the metaphor.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Elementary education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Nelson, Marguerite Hansen, "A study of metaphor as a mode of instruction" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9543459.