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Experience, instruction, and social environment: fourth and fifth grade students' use of metaphor.

This research, based on the post-1980s studies of Lacoff and Johnson (2005), was conducted to examine the metaphoric statements of students about their social studies course. Data were collected from 564 students in 4th and 5th grade classes at elementary schools in Canakkale, Turkey. The metaphorical writings of the students were categorized by means of content analysis. Metaphoric statements displayed different characteristics according to the gender and grade level of the students.

Keywords: metaphor, social studies, content analysis.


"I have a great time at the social studies course. I think that it is similar to a sauna massage. It puts my soul at ease, like music. I think this lesson is very amusing because it sometimes gives good ideas and takes me both to the past and future."

Baris Sahin, fifth grader

"I do not like the social studies course, because I'm interested in science and space generally. But these are not present in the social studies course. This lesson is similar to a necklace, because I don't like this lesson and I also don't like to wear a necklace."

Duygu Alper, fifth grader

When these statements are examined, it can be seen that explanations are partly abstract and partly concrete concepts. The above examples are taken from answers given by students to questions about how they thought of their social studies course. In the two statements given as examples, the students shape their ideas with the help of metaphors.

Metaphors command our ideas and our actions consciously and unconsciously. Moreover, they are used to show how reality and experience are interpreted (Bozik, cited in Oguz, 2005, p. 583).

In the educational environment metaphors are seen as a cognitive means to facilitate the tasks of both teacher and student. This concept has developed from the theory of mental metaphor and has been examined especially in the studies of Lacoff and Johnson in the 1980s. Many researchers have given definitions for the concept of metaphor. Todd (1996, p. 82) defined it as "giving meaning to something from another name". Gentner and Wolff (2000, p. 301) define metaphor as a versatile image, while McKay (1999) defines metaphor as the expression of similarities between differences. He also states that metaphoric development takes an important place in the formation of human spatial intelligence. According to Yob (2003, p. 127), metaphor is a strong cognitive meaning in the understanding and explanation of higher level abstract, complex or theoretical facts. When these definitions are examined, it can be seen that concepts appear in the human mind and are formed without meaning. Metaphors help an individual to move from the mind's understanding of one thing to another and allow the individual to separate one fact from another (Saban et al., 2005, p. 540).

Metaphoric statements can be developed only after basic language rules have been learned (Gentner, 1977, p. 157). According to Todd (1996, p. 82), metaphoric structures appear in children from the age of two, although children do not know the real meaning of words and are not actually aware of metaphors. Todd's view is parallel to Piaget's notion that children at the age of 2-4 use relationships between words and articles consciously at the preoperational cognitive development period. It is during this period that important developments related to a child's linguistic development occur.

Cameron (1996, p. 50) emphasizes the role played by sociocultural norms in metaphorical usage. He looks at how children use metaphors, especially in both written and oral discussion at school.

As metaphors have a memory-supportive role that consists of encoding new information and then recovering it (Carroll & Mack, 1999, p. 392), they can be seen as a cognitive aid that facilitates the tasks of both teacher and student in educational environments (Oguz, 2005, p. 583). Metaphors are a conduit for transmitting daily ideas and daily actions consciously and unconsciously (Lacoff & Johnson, 2005, p. 25). Children interpret and use metaphors related to their knowledge, skills, habits and behavior. Metaphors, therefore, cannot be abstracted from individuals' past experiences, prelearning experiences and social environment (Oguz, 2005, p. 583).

The social studies course referred to in this study helps students learn about their past and plan their future; while at the same time gaining a better appreciation of today's world (Guven, 2003). If primary school education is the basis of a student's future education, and the knowledge and skills obtained in this period have an important function in the success of the individual's later instructional experiences, it can be said that the social studies course has an important function in the education process.

The social studies course is intimately concerned with a child's social life. The child is likely to express his/her ideas relating to this subject using metaphoric structures. As a result of what is learned in a social studies course, a child can improve his/her manners and behavior, better appreciate social problems, become more consciously involved in the affairs of the community, and so lead a more satisfying, useful and enriching life.

The current study differs from other studies relating to the social studies course in that students were asked to give their ideas about the lesson (positive or negative) in their own words using their own concepts. In particular, the students were asked to comment on the course using comparisons, expressing themselves in metaphors or similes.

The purpose of this research was to determine the skills of 4th and 5th grade students in giving metaphorical descriptions of their attitude towards a social studies course. In addition, answers to the following questions were sought:

1. What are the personal characteristics of the students who participated in the research?

2. What is the distribution of metaphoric statements (related to experience, instruction and social environment) formed by the students, in relation to:

a) Gender,

b) Students' class level, and

c) Students' positive or negative statements about the course?

3. What is the relationship between student gender and distribution of metaphors related to the teaching process?

4. What is the relationship between student class level and distribution of metaphors related to the teaching process?



Each student who took part in the study was asked to write down what s/he thought about his/her social studies course. They were asked to complete the statement "Social studies is similar to.... because in this lesson the ...

The sample was drawn from students in Canakkale, Marmara, Turkey. The study was undertaken in the 2005-2006 school year, with a total sample of 564 participants.

A qualitative method giving detailed information about the individuals and conditions was used. The content analysis technique was used in analysis of the data, which were combined into certain concepts and subjects (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The data obtained were then coded and transferred to the computer. Comparisons of the participants' characteristics as set out in the research questions were made using the quantitative method.


There were 564 students in the 4th and 5th grades who were asked to write short essays that contained their ideas about their social studies course. The papers of 106 students were eliminated from the data because they did not use metaphoric structures and/or did not write about the subject. The metaphors formulated by 458 students were included in the evaluation phase of the research. Analysis and interpretation of the metaphors used by the students consisted of 6 stages:

l. Reading papers and giving them page numbers: Each student's paper was read and ranked by giving page numbers.

2. Naming and codification: The students' statements were examined for use of metaphoric structures and were annotated.

3. Classification: Each metaphor that had been coded was appraised and the content analysis technique (Yildirim & SimSek, 2005) was used to determine common or differentiating features. The metaphors that students wrote were then reviewed and each metaphor was evaluated based on (1) subject of metaphor, (2) source of metaphor, and (3) metaphor-subject and metaphor-source relationship (Saban et al., 2005, p. 541).

4. Developing categories: Metaphors obtained from the papers of the students were sorted into 18 conceptual categories according to common features. These categories were: "entertainment", "information", "efficiency", "life", "up-to-date", "socialization", "guide", "time", "communication", "technique", "diversity", "evaluation", "attitude", "participation", "repeat", "importance", "motivation" and "necessity". These categories were evaluated again and classified in three general categories; "experience", "education", and "social environment".

In the Experience category, 101 metaphoric statements in student compositions were collected under the headings "life", "up-to-date", "necessity" and "importance".

Samples of these metaphoric statements are given below:

"The social studies course is like a part of science because this lesson teaches everything."

Umut Koray, fifth grader

"The social studies course is similar to a lesson in which we make explanations in clusters and do drama because this lesson is very enjoyable."

Melike Sahin, fifth grader

In the Education category, 315 metaphoric statements of students were collected under "motivation", "information", "efficiency", "guide", "time", "technique", "diversity", "evaluation", "attitude", "participation" and "repeat". These groupings were then collected under the subcategories of "learning- teaching period", "aim of lesson", "evaluation" and "content". A sample of these metaphoric statements is given below:

"The social studies course is similar to a graph because we study Ataturk's life and his reforms in this lesson. We write chronicles successively."

Melisa Guner, fifth grader

In the Social Environment category, 40 metaphoric student statements were collected under the headings "experience", "education", and "social environment". A sample of these metaphoric statements is given below:

"The social studies course is similar to a computer because, as we are on the Internet, we learn how to communicate, and get information."

Seray Karatekin, fourth grader

5. Reorganizing and compilation: One metaphoric statement was selected from each category as a sample. These selected statements were listed (1) to use them as an application source in the collection of metaphors under certain categories, and (2) in order to validate the data analysis stage and interpretation.

6. Transferring data to SPSS program for quantitative data analysis: The data that had been categorized at the end of the fifth stage were coded and transferred to SPSS statistical analysis program.

7. Reliability of the written contents: Reliability of the written content for exploring the metaphoric expressions of students was measured thoroughly by asking for the written expressions at two times over the three weeks. Results showed the metaphoric expressions of students were very close to each other. For that reason, the researcher's method for collecting metaphoric expressions of students was assumed to be reliable.


There were 564 students taking part in the study but one student did not supply information about gender, hence the percentages and frequencies are based on 563 in the first row of Table 1.

The relation of student gender to allocation of metaphoric statements in the three categories was tested using chi-square tests. The results are shown in Table 2.

According to the test results, girls and boys differ in forming metaphoric statements, most significantly in forming metaphors related to the social environment. The finding of meaningful differences between the allocation of students' gender and their metaphoric statements among the three basic categories parallels Palmquist's (2001, p. 27) findings. Palmquist suggests that gender is a significant factor in selecting metaphors and that there are gender differences in structuring metaphoric statements.

In line with another aim of the research the distribution of metaphoric statements formed by students was analyzed according to grade using the chi- square technique.

In our study the 5th grade students differed from 4th grade students in forming experience-oriented metaphors; a result consistent with the literature (Leinbach, Hort, & Fagot, 1997, p. 127).

When we examined the education-oriented statements made by students it was found that they could be divided into four groups according to subject matter: the teaching-learning period of the social studies course, the aim of the course, its evaluation and its content. This category is therefore dealt with in four subcategories. In Table 5 the statements related to the education category are shown by gender.

No significant difference according to gender was found among the students who formed metaphors relating to education. The relationship between students' class level and distribution of metaphorical statements related to teaching was explored employing Chi-square tests and results are shown in Table 6.

Students in the 4th grade differed from students in the 5th grade in forming metaphors relating to the evaluation subcategory.


This research was undertaken to determine the abilities of students in forming metaphors related to their social studies course and to examine these abilities within the framework of variables. Based on the findings, the results can be summarized as below:

* There is a significant difference between girls and boys in terms of metaphor formation. Girls tend to express themselves in this way much more than boys do.

* There is a significant difference between the 4th and 5th grade students in terms of metaphor formation. Fifth graders were found to use metaphoric statements far more than fourth graders.

Based on the findings, further research may also be carried out on alternative themes such as analyzing the metaphors formed by students, determining what they call concepts, detecting how they use these concepts in different lessons, and examining factors which affect the development of the ability to think metaphorically and form metaphors. By means of these metaphors formed by students, teachers may gain an understanding of the students' underlying thoughts about the lesson and codify a suitable education environment to assist them in using course time more effectively and efficiently.


Cameron, L. (1996). Discourse context and development of metaphor in children. Current Issues in Language & Society, 1, 49-64.

Carroll, J. M., & Mack, R. L. (1999). Metaphor, computing systems and active learning. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 51(2), 385-403.

Gentner, D. (1977). If a tree had a knee, where would it be? Children's performance on simple spatial metaphors. Child Language Development, 13(1), 157-164.

Gentner, D., & Wolff, P (2000). Cognitive dynamics: Conceptual change in humans and machines. In E. Dietrich & A. Markman (Eds.), Metaphor and knowledge change (pp. 295-342). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.

Guven, B. (2003). Ilkogretim 5. sinif sosyal bilgiler dersinde alan bagimlilik- alan balimsizlik bilissel stil boyutlarina uygun olarak hazirlanan ogretim etkinliklerinin akademik basari ve tutumlar uzerindeki etkisi [Field dependent and field independent cognitive style dimensions in the 5th grade of the social studies course in elementary school.] Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Anadolu University, EskiSehir, Turkey.

Lacoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2005). Metaforlar, hayat anlam ve dil. [Metaphors, meaning of life, and language] Translator: G6khan Yavuz Demir. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Leinbach, D. M., Hort, E. B., & Fagot, I. B. (1997). Bears are for boys: Metaphorical associations in young children's gender stereotypes. Cognitive Development, 12, 107-130.

McKay, C. L. (1999). Metaphors as a teaching tool. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Claremont Graduate University.

Oguz, A. (2005). Ogretmen egitim programlarinda metafor kullanma. [Metaphors in teacher training programs]. 15. Education Sciences Congress Proceedings, Pamukkale Oniversitesi, Denizli, 28- 30 September (pp. 582-588).

Palmquist, A. (2001). Cognitive style and users' metaphors for the web. An exploratory study. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 27(1), 24-32.

Saban, A., Kocbekar, B. N., & Saban, A. (2005). Ogretmen adaylarmin bgretmen kavramma iliSkin sahip olduklari metaforlar [Metaphoric expressions of student teacher toward teacher]. 14. Education Sciences Congress Proceedings, Denizli: Pamukkale Oniversitesi (pp. 540-546).

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basic techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Todd, Z. (1996). Metaphor, play and drama: The role of the symbolic in the development of socio- linguistic competence. Current Issues in Language & Society, 3(1), 82-90.

Yildirim, A., & $imSek, H. (2005). Sosyal bilimlerde nitel arasturma yontemleri [Qualitative research methods in social sciences]. Ankara: Seckin Yayinevi.

Yob, I. M. (2003). Thinking constructively with metaphors. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 22,127-138.


Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Turkey

Bullent Guven, PhD, Department of Primary Education, Faculty of Education, Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Canakkale, Turkey.

The author wishes to thank Sibel Guven for her support, especially in the process of data collection and analysis.

Appreciation is due to reviewers including: Esmahan Agaoglu, Educational Sciences Department, Education Faculty, Anadolu University, Eskisehir, Turkey 26470, Email:; Tamar Levin, School of Education, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Ramat Aviv, 69978, Israel, Email:; John Murphy, PhD, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124, USA, Email:; Prof. Dr. H. Ferhan Odabasi, Faculty of Education, Computer and Instructional Technologies, Teaching Department, Anadolu University, 26470 Eskisehir, Turkey, Email:; Adalira Saenz-Ludlow, PhD, Mathematics Department, University of North Carolina, 9201 University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA, Email:

Please address correspondence and reprint requests to: Billent Guven, PhD, Faculty of Education, Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Anafartalar Kampusu, 17100 Canakkale, Turkey. Phone: +90 286 217 1303; Fax: +90 286 212 0751; Email:

Gender                           Girls          Boys         Total

n (%)                          269 (47.8)    294 (52.2)    563 (100)

Class Level                    4th Grade     5th Grade       Total

n (%)                          284 (50.4)    280 (49.6)    564 (100)

Ability to form metaphors       Existing    Not Existing     Total

n (%)                          456 (81.2)    108 (18.8)    564 (100)

Statements concerning social    Positive      Negative       Total
studies course

n (%)                          528 (93.6)     36 (6.4)     564 (100)


                             Girls         Boys        Total

Experience n (%)            53 (53.0)    47 (47.0)   100 (100)
Instruction n (%)          163 (51.7)   152 (48.3)   315 (100)
Social Environment n (%)    23 (57.5)    17 (42.5)    40 (100)

Total n (%)                239 (52.5)   216 (47.5)   455 (100)

Chi square = 6.283 s = .000 df = 3 p < 0.05


                           4th Grade    5th Grade      Total

Experience n (%)            40 (39.6)    61 (60.4)   101 (100)
Instruction n (%)          157 (49.8)   158 (50.2)   315 (100)
Social Environment n (%)    21 (52.5)    19 (47.5)    40 (100)

Total n (%)                218 (47.8)   238 (52.2)   456 (100)

Chi square = 9.775 s = .021 df = 3 p < 0.05


                             Positive    Negative     Total

Experience n (%)             99 (98.0)   2 (2.0)    101 (100)
Instruction n (%)           309 (98.1)   6 (1.9)    315 (100)
Social Environment n (%)     40 (100)                40 (100)

Total n (%)                 448 (98.2)   8 (1.8)    456 (100)


                                     Girls         Boys        Total

Teaching-Learning process n (%)     42 (53.8)    36 (46.2)    78 (100)
Aim of course n (%)                 34 (50.0)    34 (50.0)    68 (100)
Evaluation n (%)                    11 (39.3)    17 (60.7)    28 (100)
Content n (%)                       75 (53.6)    65 (46.4)   140 (100)

Total n (%)                        162 (51.5)   152 (48.5)   314 (100)

Chi square = 6.283 df = 4 p < 0.05


                                     Grade      Fifth Grade     Total

Teaching learning process n (%)    45 (57.7)    33 (42.3)     78 (100)
Aim of course n (%)                26 (38.2)    42 (61.8)     68 (100)
Evaluation n (%)                   20 (71.4)     8 (28.6)     28 (100)
Content n (%)                      66 (47.1)    74 (52.9)    140 (100)

Total n (%)                       157 (50.0)   157 (50.0)    314 (100)

Chi square = 11.247 df = 4 p < 0.05
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Author:Guven, Bulent
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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