How is a Hot Dog Like a Shoe?
Thinking by Analogy

"Genius is the capacity to see 10 things where the ordinary man sees one"
Ezra Pound

2 periods

Overview: Students practice using and explaining analogies that reveal their understanding of new concepts.

Journey North invites students to become scientists, researchers, collaborators, and investigators. All of these roles require critical thinking. One strategy that will help students better understand abstract concepts is the use of analogy. (This involves making comparisons and finding similarities between two dissimilar things.) By making analogies, students can relate new things they don't yet understand to things they do; they can, in turn, better explain how the world works! Their analogies can also help you assess their understanding of a concept.

The world of science and invention is filled with discoveries made through analogous thinking. Velcro, for instance, was developed after someone examined the hooks on a burr and thought about the way zippers work. Use the following ideas throughout your Journey North studies to enable your young scientists to better understand unfamiliar concepts. (Be aware, however, that when analogies are stretched too far, they can lead to misconceptions!)

Laying the Groundwork

  • Ask the class to think about how two things that seem unrelated might be alike. For instance, How is a dishwasher like a tree? In what ways is a hot dog like a shoe?

    At first it might seem as though these have nothing in common, but after some thought, students should be able to generate responses. For example, the tree and dishwasher both need water and they clean things. The hot dog and the shoe are both long and thin, made from animals, and go with another object (a shoe with a foot and a hot dog with a bun).

  • Explain to the class that they have created analogies and discuss what that means and why such comparisons might be useful.

Here are some suggestions for integrating analogous thinking into your Journey North studies:

  1. Share this with students: Dr. Lincoln Brower has studied the monarchs in their wintering sanctuaries for 20 years. Whenever he describes the monarchs' winter habitat, he uses this analogy: "The forest serves as an umbrella and a blanket for the monarchs." Ask students to work individually or in pairs to think about the analogies he uses and explain in writing what these reveal about how the forest helps monarchs survive.
  2. Once the students have tried to make sense of Dr. Brower's analogies, invite them to explain some of their own. Here are two prompts:

    Younger students
    How are the seasons like a circus? (Other options: an alarm clock, riding a bike, a trip, a dance.)

    Older students:
    The seasons are like _________________. (Next, they'll explain how.)

  3. Once students have a seasonal analogy, have pairs work together to write as many statements as they can about how the two are alike. You might suggest beginning statements with the words "They both . . ."
  4. Finally, have students put their statements together to make a poem or short description. Here's an example:
  • The seasons are like a bike ride.
  • They both take you into new territory.
  • They both follow a path.
  • No matter how many times you go on a bike ride or through a season, you can notice something new.
  • You end up where you started.
  • You can get pretty tired of riding and tired of winter.
  • They both take some work to prepare for.

Digging Deeper
During the Journey North program, you might suggest analogies, or have students do so, for other potentially challenging concepts: photoperiod, satellite technology, migration, or isotherm, for instance.

Making Connections — Discussion and Journaling Questions

  • When you made or explained analogies, did it cause you to think differently about the topic? How?
  • How did explaining analogies help you better understand something?

Use students' analogies and their explanations to assess their grasp of a topic or concept.