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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An investigation of the effects of metaphor on seventh-grade students’ comprehension of expository text Mercer, Kay Louise


This study investigated the effects of metaphor on children's comprehension of expository text. Forty-six seventh-grade students read either the metaphorical or the literal versions of two texts each containing eight targets, that is, metaphors or their equivalent literal phrases. One text, "Polar Bears," described a topic familiar to the students while the other, "Wombats," described an unfamiliar topic. After reading each text, students orally recalled as much information as possible, and then answered oral probe questions. Students who read the metaphoric versions of the texts also completed a written recognition-of-meaning test as an additional measure of metaphor comprehension. There was no difference between students' comprehension of the metaphoric texts and their comprehension of the literal texts. There was, however, a facilitative effect for metaphor on students' comprehension of target information when the topic of the text was unfamiliar. Students were able to recall the information conveyed by the metaphors and to recognize the correct interpretations of the metaphors better from the unfamiliar text than from the familiar metaphoric text. Students' ability to answer factual questions based on the metaphors, however, was no different from the familiar text than it was from the unfamiliar text. This finding was interpreted as demonstrating an effect of a kind, for topic significantly affected the other measures of probed recall in favour of the familiar topic. The different findings of the free recall and recognition of meaning measures, and the probe recall measures regarding target comprehension were likely due to the different task constraints of these sets of measures. It was noted that there is a need for further research on the relationship and nature of these widely-used measures of comprehension. It was concluded that although metaphors appear with some frequency in basal readers, metaphor is not a troublesome aspect of language which children need to be taught to analyze and to interpret. If children are experiencing difficulties comprehending texts containing metaphors, they will likely benefit from curriculum activities designed to develop their vocabulary, their experience with language and literature, and their knowledge of the world.

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