Igniting Critical and Creative Thinking

How to Teach Analogies to Elementary Students

How I teach analogies

Why should we teach analogies?

An analogy is simply a comparison of two things that are usually thought of as being different, but are similar in some way.  They are written in a specific format such as  apple : fruit :: carrot : vegetable.  It reads: apple is to fruit as carrot is to vegetable. Teaching analogies helps students understand these comparisons.

How I teach analogies example


I have been teaching analogies to elementary students for years, so I felt validated when I read the research about teaching analogies. In Marzano, Pollock, and Pickering’s book Classroom Instruction That Works, the authors write about 9 instructional strategies that have the greatest effect on student achievement.  Similarities and Differences is one of those strategies.  When you teach analogies, your students are making comparisons.  At the lowest level, these comparisons may be simple sorting activities. But at the highest level, similarities and differences include analogies which is basically reasoning by comparison.

Benefits of Teaching Analogies to Elementary Students:

Okay, so understanding analogies increases student achievement.  But why?  Here are a few reasons: 

  • help you identify flaws in student thinking – If a student creates an analogy that doesn’t make sense, you can examine it to understand their thinking and correct misconceptions. On the other hand, if they create an analogy that makes sense, they have demonstrated understanding of a concept.
  • teaching analogies teaches students to use critical thinking and logic skills
  • help students analyze relationships of words and ideas. I like to teach analogies by asking primary students how they go together or what they have in common.  Examples of relationships are:
    • part to whole
    • synonyms
    • opposites
    • function
    • size
    • categories
  • increase vocabulary
  • help students understand nuances of language
  • help students prepare for standardized tests

Background skills needed to solve and teach analogies

Teach analogies using sorting activites


I like to make sure that my students have some experience with sorting activities before I teach  analogies.  Sorting helps students learn to categorize things by attributes. Attribute listing in one of the pre-requisites to analogies.  You may think your primary kiddos can’t do this, but I assure you, they can!  

Teach analogies using sorting activities

Teach analogies using sorting activites
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Teaching Analogies to Elementary Students

Teachers should teach analogies as students learn to read.  If your students have little experience with classifying and sorting words and objects, you will need to use concrete objects. Have the students tell how they are similar and different.  Record their ideas on the board.  Next, put them in groups and repeat the activity.

Some easy objects to use are:

  • apple and banana
  • ball and marble
  • cup and glass
  • screwdriver and hammers
  • shoe and sock

Next, I like teach analogies by showing a PowerPoint so we can solve analogies as a class.  

analogy example deer and fawn

Four Levels of Complexity

To add more complexity, you can have the students finish the analogy. Example: spider is to 8  as _____________ is to ______________. 

The highest level I do with students is to have them complete an analogy and then create an analogy that has the same relationship.

create your own analogy cow is to milk as hen is to what?

In the example above, we get milk from cows and eggs from hens. So, a new analogy could be sheep is to wool as oyster is to pearl. This is just one example. The kids wouldn’t have to use animals at all.  For example, they could say tree is to paper as wheat is to flour because paper comes from trees and flour comes from wheat. 

When can you teach analogies?

You can use teach analogies in almost every lesson. They can be used as daily warm-ups, in centers, as a question during a lesson, and as exit tickets.


Beginning analogies product for grades K-2

product to classify and sort common nouns

common noun task cards which one doesn't belong strategy

sign up for a set of free beginning analogy worksheets


picture of analogy task cards

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hey y'all

I'm Susan!

I’m Susan Morrow and I help overwhelmed teachers create thinking classrooms where students discover the joy in learning and achieving.

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