How to Write Exaggerations

by Bruce Lansky

Wouldn't it be great if you could figure out a way to get your students to think metaphorically without having to go through all those tiresome explanations of similes and metaphors? I just came up with an idea that might work: exaggeration. Metaphors, of course, are comparisons. And exaggerations are comparisons (or implied comparisons) of the seemingly exceptional vs. the ordinary.

Tell your students to write a few lines proving that someone they know is the best, nicest, smartest, fastest, strongest, or most beautiful person. Here's something I wrote about my mother, as an example.

My Mom is Better than Your Mom

My mom is better than your mom.
The oatmeal she makes is so good for me I could bench press 100 pounds when I was five.
She says "Have a bright day," as I walk out the door and I'm ready to get straight A's in school.
She makes spinach and Brussels sprouts so delicious I always ask for seconds.
People are always telling her, "You're so beautiful, you should be a model." But she always responds, "It's not your outer beauty but your inner beauty that counts most."
She never nags me to do my homework. Instead, she asks "How are you doing with your homework? Need some help?" I never do. I want her to be proud of me.
And when she puts me to bed at night, she tucks me, gives me a kiss,
and I'm asleep--just like that.
My mom is nicer than your mom.
--Bruce Lansky
© 2002

You don't have to worry about rhythm and rhyme when you judge these poems. The main question is: Are they imaginative? Are they fun to read? Are the comparisons fresh or are they stale? Notice, for example, that I didn't state my mother was a beauty- contest winner. I went beyond that to prove she had inner beauty rather than outer beauty. To prove she was a good cook, I suggested she could make foods most kids consider yucky, delicious.

This exercise reminded me of that American folk song about Old Dan Tucker.
The first stanza's about all I can remember.

Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man.
Washed his face with a frying pan.
Combed his hair with a wagon wheel.
And died with a toothpick in his heel.
--American folk song

If you wanted to embellish the exercise and make it a little tougher, you could
ask your students to write new lyrics to this folk song.

The rhythm and rhyme pattern are simple: Four beats to every line (tap your toes four times on each line) and a simple AA, BB, CC, DD rhyme pattern.

Here's a new take on Old Dan Tucker:

Old Dan Tucker was an ugly man.
Face was flat as a frying pan.
Nose was crooked and his eyes stayed shut.
Head was bald as a coconut.
--Bruce Lansky
© 2002

I'd like to end with a few words about my father. I'm here to tell you that:

My Dad is Tougher than Your Dad.

My Dad is tougher than your dad.
He wrestles alligators every morning just to get his heart pumping.
Instead of eating toast and coffee for breakfast, he eats the toaster and the coffeemaker.
He doesn't drive to work, he runs to work--ten miles a day.
When he gets home from work he relaxes in a hot bath of boiling water.
He prefers chewing nails to chewing gum.
And when he sees someone for the first time, he says "Hello, nice to meet you," so loud and fearsome people run away and hide.
My dad is tougher than your dad.
--Bruce Lansky
© 2002

If you'd like to introduce your students to some other poems along these lines, suggest they read "Oliver's Parents in the Morning" and "Oliver's Parents in the Evening." Both can be found in Kids Pick the Funniest Poems.

--Bruce Lansky

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    Kids Pick the Funniest Poems