12 Metaphors about Students that Pop! (Updated 2019)

metaphors about students

Metaphors about students include: (1) Students are like babies starting to crawl. (2) Students are blank slates. (3) Students are flowers in a garden. (4) A student is a sponge. (5) Students stand on the shoulders of giants.

Read the rest of the metaphors about students below.

A metaphor is a means for helping people explain difficult and complex concepts. Metaphors draw analogies between two similar things or concepts.

Metaphors are very common in our language. We use them every day, even when we don’t think we are using them!

Similes are similar to metaphors, but instead of saying something is something, we say it is like something.

This post takes a look at some metaphors describing students.

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Metaphors about Students

1. A student is like a baby learning to crawl.

This metaphor (okay, simile) refers to students being right at the start of their learning journey. The student has a long way to go and each stage of the learning process is important.

You might have also heard of the term “you need to crawl before you run”. This term fits into this metaphor. A student needs to take each lesson one at a time. For now they may only be able to crawl, but eventually they’ll be an expert on their topic: they will be able to run!

2. A student is a sponge.

This metaphor is particularly true in early childhood education. Young children have a crazy ability to absorb everything around them. Anyone who has sworn in front of a child may have noticed this! Before long, the child will be swearing right back at you because they soaked up your language!

This metaphor shows just how important guided practice is. Guided practice refers to the idea that teachers are role models. They model behavior, action and skills whenever a student is within eyeshot.

3. Students stand on the shoulders of giants.

We aren’t born into a world without knowledge. Rather, when we learn, we rely on teachers, our books, and people who’ve come before us to teach us. If we reach great heights, it’s only by using and building on the knowledge of the people who came before us.

4. A student is like a flower: It takes time and care for students to grow.

This metaphor originated with Freidrich Froebel who argued schools were like gardens, students were like flowers, and teachers were like gardeners. As you learn, you ‘grow’ as a person. You develop wisdom and skills. You’ll ‘blossom’ under the right learning conditions.

5. A student is a detective.

If you view yourself as a detective, you’ll approach learning as a mystery to be solved. You’ll go out and collect information and use it to develop a picture of what you think is true and what’s false.

6. Learning is a quest and the student is the explorer.

Viewing yourself as an ‘explorer’ is another great way to explain learning. You’re out looking for exciting new things and ‘treading new ground’. It shows how learning can be exciting.

7. A student is a sculptor.

Sculptors start with a block of clay and chip away at it until they’ve created an artwork. Similarly, learners start with a general outline of their topic and as they learn more about it, they begin to develop a more refined picture of their topic.

8. Students are travellers to strange lands.

This metaphor is particularly true for people who study literature, history and geography. You’ll get to learn about people from societies and cultures unlike your own. While you’re there, you’ll learn lessons from those cultures that will help you refine your values and beliefs.

9. A student is a blank slate.

The blank slate metaphor was invented by John Locke. Locke used the Latin term “tabula rasa” which translates to blank slate in English. Locke was a Scottish philosopher who believed children were born with nothing in their minds. They were like blank slates ready to have knowledge inscribed onto them.

Nowadays, many people disagree with Locke. If you think a student walks into your classroom on day 1 with no knowledge, you’re very wrong! Students have families, friends and cultural backgrounds that they rely on when making sense of the world. We all have a history that means we’re not blank slates.

10. A student is an empty vessel.

The empty vessel metaphor pictures students as having empty minds ready to be filled with knowledge. It is often used interchangeably with the metaphor of children as blank slates.

You could picture a tanker waiting in a harbor to be filled. Maybe a crane is lifting crates and dropping them one by one in neat stacks onto the ship.

Of course, that’s not how it works in education. Information isn’t dropped into our minds in an orderly fashion. When new information enters our minds, we work hard to think about how it connects to our existing knowledge. Our minds try to figure out what this new information means to us and how it changes our worldview.

So, many educators think the empty vessel metaphor is to simplistic: we don’t just stack new knowledge in our minds. We construct knowledge actively within our heads.

11. A student is a driver and the teacher is the navigator.

We used to think that teachers sat passively listening to a teacher impart knowledge. But these days, we think of the student as the active learner in charge of their own development. You might have heard of the term “student led learning”.

This metaphor explains a student led approach. Instead of the teacher steering the lesson, it is the student who is the driver. The teacher takes the role of the front seat navigator, giving advice and support when needed.

12. You can lead a student to water but you can’t make him drink.

This metaphor is borrowed from the metaphor “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. It means that you can do absolutely everything to try to get someone 95% of the way somewhere, but in the end that person (or horse) has to do the last 5% themselves … but they can’t!

You might hear this one from teachers in a staff room. The teacher might complain that they did everything they could except give the answer. They scaffolded learning, gave hints and modeled the task, but they just couldn’t succeed!

Final Thoughts

Use these metaphors about students to help explain the life and troubles of a student clearly to others. You can use these metaphors to think about what your thoughts are about students and what makes a good student.

If you have any suggestions for other metaphors about students, I’d love to hear them! Post your suggestions in the comments below and if I like it, I’ll add it to this list!

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Chris Drew, PhD (aka The Helpful Professor)

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