When teaching a class at any level, using the right skills and tools is a must.

This increases your portfolio of potential learning opportunities, introducing students to concepts in a series of unique manners that hold the attention of people with various learning requirements. Analogies are an ideal tool for teaching potentially complex areas of learning, such as critical thinking, in older students.

Find out more about what analogies for critical thinking are, why using analogies when teaching critical thinking is important, and some examples of analogies for critical thinking when teaching students of a range of ages.

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What are analogies for critical thinking?

Before seeing examples of analogies for critical thinking, knowing more about what analogies for critical thinking are is a must. An analogy is a case in which two seemingly unrelated cases link, with the relationships between two things applying in the same way as the relationship between a different pair of things. For example, a “fish out of water” is analogous to someone being out of their comfort zone. Analogies are ideal tools for teaching within a single discipline and across several disciplines, as they are unrelated by their very nature.

Analogies are ideal for teaching critical thinking, as each analogy is a riddle. The listener hears the analogy, considers the relationship between the two concepts in the analogy, and compares them to two different concepts with the same relationship. Using analogies for critical thinking is beneficial in various age groups and ability levels, as they are flexible and relevant to a series of unique levels of ability and understanding.

The benefits of using analogies for critical thinking

There are several benefits of using analogies for critical thinking in a series of subject areas and targeting a selection of age groups. Just some of the benefits of using analogies in a classroom environment include the following:

Improve vocabulary

The first benefit of using analogy and metaphor in education is that you improve the vocabulary level students in the class use. Analogies introduce terminology from different sectors, industries, and subjects, introducing young people to new terms and information. The analogy introduces a concept they are already aware of before comparing it to the new terms, so they have a broad understanding of what the subject or concept means before delving into further research into the area. This provides a solid foundation for later work.

Greater comprehension

For a very young learner reading a piece quickly is good but reading quickly and understanding all the nuances of the prose is a must. Connecting what a young person already knows to the subject matter increases the chances of immediate comprehension. It speeds up the learning process, so the next time the reader sees the word, they understand the sentence more quickly. Research shows that background knowledge is a fundamental part of improving reading comprehension, and offering metaphors and analogies provide young readers with the context necessary.

Improving comparison skills

Increasing the level of comparison skills in young people is ideal. Everything we do comes from a degree of comparison, with our understanding of time, length, height, and concepts like brightness coming from comparisons and relative measurement. Comparing and contrasting ideas, therefore, is a core skill that students benefit from developing at an early age. Implementing metaphors and analogies improves comparison skills, introducing young people to the importance of linking ideas to one another from an early age. Overall academic development improves through this method, rather than a specific subject.


From a teacher’s perspective rather than one of a student, analogies make complex concepts more communicable than in their raw form. For example, explaining the nature of subatomic particles is very complex, while discussing them as the “building blocks” of the universe significantly simplifies the idea. Using analogies, in this sense, is ideal for the earliest stages of a young person’s educational journey as it provides a bridge between the full understanding of a concept and the level that a student needs to be on at that specific point in their development.

Parental communication

Research has found that while there are many complex nuances and differentiating factors, there is a link between the educational performance of a parent and their child. Part of the reason for this is an ethos of education, where another significant feature is the support a parent offers their child. The more a parent understands a specific subject, the more insight they offer their child and the more comprehensive the young person’s education. Analogies and metaphors are a fast method of communicating the complexities of a topic to parents, which then passes on to students who achieve better results thanks to the greater support they receive.

Inspire creativity

While teachers benefit from creating analogies for their students, there is a further benefit in the students themselves creating them. By asking students to create analogies for the teacher, teachers better understand which students properly understand the concept and offer corrective guidance. This offers an ideal form of informal assessment, with staff members adjusting their teaching techniques in line with the feedback they get from this exercise. Educational institutions further tailor learning to their students, leading to more positive future results.

Examples of analogies for critical thinking

There are several examples of analogies that critical thinking schools use when conveying complex concepts to their students. See a series of analogies below, in addition to brief explanations of what these analogies mean:

Addition to Subtraction; Good to Bad – Antonyms

Antonyms are an important part of any subject in education. In this instance, the opposites of addition and subtraction are analogous to the moral differences between good and bad. Machine learning systems use the concepts of actions and their opposites, and the same applies to educating young people about their responsibilities in the wider world. Educating on antonyms and opposites from a very early age is ideal, providing young people with a foundation for what to do and what not to do. Use these analogies at kindergarten and younger age education stages of learning.

Brick to Building; Quark to Atom – Construction

The sciences have a lot of subjects and topics revolving heavily around construction. For example, the way that quarks are a fundamental part of the formation of an atom. This is initially a difficult concept, as people teach children that atoms are the smallest things. When discussing smaller parts of a more complex system, use metaphors and analogies, such as how a brick is part of a building. Take this analogy further when necessary and implement discussion around the “mortar” holding all of the pieces of the equation together, such as strong nuclear force in this specific analogy.

Video to Radio; Mail to Carrier Pigeon – Evolving

The world is full of evolution; one thing turns into another due to age or planned irrelevance. The ideal analogy for this is video and radio, as television’s introduction saw a drastic decrease in the number of people using the radio thanks to a more intriguing technology being in place. Consider using these analogies in a context such as Computer Science, in which new programming languages, systems, and services increasingly take over from their predecessors. This simplifies the understanding of the transition into a concept that the student already understands. At the same time, you add nuance, such as what the new software practically introduced for users in a more in-depth lesson environment.

Knife to Cut; Glue to Stick – Function

When teaching about functions, using an existing example that people already know about is beneficial. For example, everyone knows that a knife cuts. Add further parameters to an analogy as a method of adjusting the way that people perceive the function. The perfect example of an analogy with further details is “A hot knife through butter”, which refers to the item in question being extremely effective at completing its task compared to the standard. Doing so adds further detail to your lessons and provides your students with more context about the topic.

Ocean to Water Cycle; CPU to computer – Component

A component-oriented analogy discusses the main part of a process or the one most important to that process’s functionality. For example, the ocean is the most important part of the water cycle, where the CPU is responsible for all the processing in a computer. These are more accessible analogies for young students, who may not understand an imperative task. Consider presenting this information in a system such as a Gantt chart or flowchart to establish the requirement for completing these tasks.

Hot to Burn; Cold to Freeze – Consequence

Using consequential analogies as a means of demonstrating cause and effect to students. An ideal age for demonstrating cause and effect to students is when they are as young as possible, such as those in kindergarten. At this age, a school can relate the concept of inevitable consequences to students, which is beneficial for implementing a discipline system. This acts within the deterrent theory, in which people avoid committing particular actions as they know punishment is awaiting. Use consequence-oriented analogies when discussing punishments and rewards for students to guide behavior in a positive direction from an early age in an understandable manner.

Soccer to Knuckleball; Chef to Pan Frying – Tasks

Discussing tasks as an analogy is ideal for presenting expertise in a subject. In this instance, a knuckleball is a difficult form of a soccer kick, requiring a high level of skill, experience, and dexterity. Modify the specific analogy you use to the context, with differing levels of expertise presented through different analogies. For example, effectively pan-frying a meal is a difficult process that chefs complete, where they also complete simpler roles such as cutting carrots and peeling potatoes. Use this scale to convey the difficulty of tasks in areas such as chemistry or applied physics, as they don’t directly relate but make sense when you apply the change.

Fish to Water; Squirrel to Tree – Habitat

Use habitat-oriented analogies when discussing information, such as where things or people feel “at home” in a literal or metaphorical sense. “Like a squirrel in a tree,” for example, indicates a high level of comfort and is a term that benefits a range of humanities subjects and works effectively in a more subjective area of learning. Habitat-focused analogies are also ideal for other contexts, including indicating discomfort. The term “a fish out of water” is the most common analogy in this case, as people understand that a fish asphyxiates when outside water. This analogy works in many different age groups and settings as it depends on a very basic piece of knowledge with relatively little critical thought.

A lit fuse to a Cannon; The assassination of Franz Ferdinand to World War One – Trigger events

Subjects such as history benefit from having a comprehensive understanding of “trigger events”, with the additional nuance that this is not necessarily a sole cause. Another analogy for this is the term “domino effect”, which suggests that all necessary pieces are in place before a trigger event leads to far more action. This is especially important for some of the biggest historical events, such as understanding the many causes of World War One. Physics and chemistry lessons also benefit from this, discussing how one scientific concept influences another in a chain reaction.