Water Dance

poem by Steve Taylor , illustrated by Ana María Méndez Salgado

Learning intention

I am learning to experiment with using metaphors in my writing so I can develop my skills to include a variety of language features.

Success criteria

  • I can identify metaphors in a text.
  • I can reflect on the impact that using metaphors has on readers.
  • I can compose metaphors to describe actions.
  • I can provide feedback to my peers.


Essential knowledge  

Discuss metaphors, ensuring students note that metaphors are formed by fusing two things to create a new meaning. Provide examples such as, she is a rose, or her warmth radiated down on us. More on metaphors can be found on the English Textual Concepts page, Connotations, Imagery and Symbol.


Prior to reading the original poem, Water Dance, display the following version of first stanza, where the title has been changed to ‘Swimming’ and where the metaphors have been removed:


All alike
old men and children
go down to the sea—
to swim
they go down to the sea,
to cool down
on a hot summer’s day.

Read the first stanza of the original poem Water Dance or listen to the audio version. Discuss the meaning of the term ‘water dance’ (swimming). Emphasise the difference between the literal meanings of the words, water and dance, and the meaning that has been used in the poem). Ensure students identify that this is a metaphor, as the action of swimming has been compared to a water dance to create interest. Discuss a further example of a metaphor in the stanza,

in answer to invitation

Discuss the following questions:

  • Which version of the stanza did you prefer and why?
  • How did the introduction of metaphors change the mood of the poem?
  • How did the use of metaphors impact your engagement and enjoyment of the poem?

Most likely students will conclude that including metaphors makes the poem more engaging and enjoyable and that they assist with creating a whimsical mood of the ocean. Read the remainder of the poem or listen to the audio version.

Display the following actions:

  • walking in the mountains
  • trudging off to school
  • running in a playground after school

Inform students that you will be working together to compose metaphors that describe these actions. Display the following questions and record students’ responses for them to refer back to later. Sample responses have been provided in a table:

  • What would the action look like?
  • What other events/actions look similar?
  • How might these comparisons be composed in a metaphor?
Actions What would the action look like? What other events/actions look similar? How might these comparisons be composed in a metaphor?

Walking in the mountains

moving slowly, clambering over rocks

a crab scuttling over rocks and scampering out of sight The hiker a crab, ambling over a rocks, then scampering for shelter at the first sound

Trudging off to school

head bent low, back stooped under a heavy backpack, slow moving feet an elephant carrying a heavy cargo across the mountains The student stooped under the weight of their bag; a great lumbering elephant bundled up with cargo

Running in a playground after school

jumping, skipping and whirling across the playground while whooping and calling out to friends a dolphin jumping and playing in the waves Free from school for the day, the student a dolphin jumping and playing in the waves

Inform students that they will be constructing a poem that features metaphors to describe actions. Tell them that first you will be completing an example collaboratively. Refer back to Water Dance to remind students of the style. Ensure students note that the poem features short lines and that it doesn’t follow a specific rhyming scheme. Select one of the actions above to be the subject of the poem, for example, trudging off to school. Discuss a catchy title that sums up the action, for example, Dancing Dolphin. Use the metaphor composed earlier in the poem. Demonstrate the explicit instruction of a poem, you may like to use the below example:

Dancing Dolphin

Dancing dolphin is released for the day,

It’s time to whoop and sing,

Flipping, twirling in the playground,

It plays, it jumps, it’s free.

Place students in pairs or small groups. They can also work on this task independently if they prefer. Instruct students to complete the following:

  • Select an action (students can use one of the actions from earlier if they would like to)
  • Compose metaphors to describe the action by using the scaffolding questions considered earlier
  • Include the metaphors in a brief poem about the chosen action.

Allow time for students to complete their poems before they share them with another pair/group. Instruct students to identify the metaphors in the work of their peers.



Peer assessment

Tell students to use the two stars and a wish strategy to reflect on the metaphors in their peers’ poems, for example:

Star: I love that you described the action in a creative way.

Star: I love your idea for the metaphor.

Wish: I think the metaphor could have been extended further by including more detailed description of how the two actions are alike.