‘Stalactites grew like twisted coral’


Blue John is rich in figurative language; it is one of the ways Berlie Doherty paints a vivid word picture of the setting for this story. This lesson introduces similes using ‘like’ and the terminology. It shows how similes can create images in the imagination and gives an opportunity for children to write their own.


  • Copies of Blue John, at least one between two.
  • Copies of the sentence: ‘Stalactites grew like coral, like twisted icicles, like the horns of unicorns, like the crooked teeth of goblins.’ 
  • Download a copy of the Stalactites slideshow.
  • Prepare strips of paper for recording similes found in the book.


Show the first slide and read the sentence ‘Stalactites grew…’

Show the second slide ‘Imagine’. If you followed the visualisation lesson, ‘Visualising the World of Ice, remind the children how they created pictures in their minds-eye, as if they were watching a film. Discuss with the children the images they get in their head when they read this sentence. Ask for a volunteer to come and draw what they think the stalactites look like. Encourage them to refer to the sentence for ideas.

Show the other slides (coral, icicles, unicorn horn, goblin teeth).

  • How are they like stalactites?

Point out the special word that is used to help us make these pictures in our heads ‘like’. Underline or highlight all the ‘likes’ in this sentence. Introduce the term simile and explain that a simile is when we compare one thing to another to make it more vivid. We use either ‘like’ or ‘as’ to make the comparison.

Tell the children that Berlie Doherty is very good at building word pictures. In pairs, ask them to reread chapter 2 aloud to each other, taking it in turns to read a page Ask them to look out for further similes  and to record them on the strips of paper, or in their language books:

  • his footsteps chimed like bells
  • she whispered like soft moss against his cheek
  • shining like ice and fire

Show the slides of stalagmites. 

  • What similes might we use to describe them? 

In pairs, ask the children to discuss ideas for similes.

Final reflection

Tell the children that they will come across many more similes in Blue John. Ask them to be text detectives and look out for them. They could write and add them to a collection on your working wall.

At the end of the story, you might want to vote for your favourite simile. 

  • Which simile created the very best picture in your mind? Why?