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11+ Tips: A quick way to construct similes!

Last Updated: 28 Jun, 2023

This week we look at a quick way to make your writing more descriptive by writing similes. Descriptive writing means a higher mark in the 11+ English test, so help your child by teaching them these techniques!

Over the past few months we’ve been looking at a number of 11+ maths questions (you can begin reading the series here). With the 11+ exams bearing down upon us now, however, we thought it would be worth offering some tips and tricks for the English side of the exam.

The 11+ English test typically contains a comprehension section – where you answer questions on a text – and a composition, which is either connected to the comprehension text (continue the story etc.) or unrelated to it. A large part of doing well in 11+ English is being able to write descriptively, making use of devices such as similes, personification and metaphors. To some this skill comes naturally, but for others it might be hard to know how where to start.

With that in mind, we thought we’d put show you a quick technique for writing similes, no matter what you’re writing about or what situation your characters are in. It’s important to note that this method is just one of the many ways to go about writing similes, and candidates should always try and exercise their creativity in their writing. If you always find yourself struggling to come up with things to write about, though, this method might be exactly what you need.

Step 1: Use the senses

The first part of the technique is to choose one of the five senses. These are:

  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Hearing
  • Seeing

Most children tend to describe things by the way that they look, but in actual fact the other senses are much more descriptive, particularly hearing and smell. Likewise taste and touch lend themselves very nicely to writing similes and metaphors.

For the sake of example, we’re going to choose hearing as our sense. Once we’ve decided which sense we’re going with, we need to work out what is being sensed. So, let’s say we’re writing a story about a character on a beach. It’s not particularly important who the character is, or why they’re on the beach; all that’s important is that we describe the situation well. Because we’ve chosen hearing, we need to decide what can be heard on the beach. What is the aural landscape like?

On a beach you might hear:

  • The sound of the waves washing against the shore
  • The cry of seagulls flying overhead
  • The crunch of feet on the sand
  • The foghorn of a ship out to sea
  • The howl of the wind (if it’s a British beach)

There are lots of possibilities. Once you’ve worked out what the landscape is like, you can move onto Step 2.

Step 2: Choose one thing that is being sensed and put it in the active voice

The next step is to focus on one of these things, or in the case of our example, sounds. For our example, we’re going to choose the foghorn of a ship out to sea.

If we were to write about our character hearing this foghorn, we might write: ‘David heard the foghorn of a ship out at sea.’ This is nice, but a little boring.

So what we do is we take the thing that is being sensed (the foghorn) and put it into the active voice in the sentence. Rather than David hearing the foghorn, the foghorn is going to be the main character in the sentence.

Thus, ‘David heard the foghorn of a ship out at sea’


‘The foghorn of a ship out at sea sounded [made a noise]’

Once the foghorn is in the active voice, we can give it a more descriptive verb. E.g:

  • ‘The foghorn of a ship out at sea roared…’
  • ‘The foghorn of a ship out at sea boomed….’
  • ‘The foghorn of a ship out at sea resounded…

Or we can decorate the sentence with some adjectives:

  • ‘The bellowing foghorn of a ship out at sea echoed…’
  • ‘The roaring foghorn of a vast ship out at sea droned…’

Step 3: Put in your ‘as’ or ‘like’

Now we turn our sentence into a simile by adding ‘as’ or ‘like’.

So ‘The foghorn of a ship out at sea roared like…’


‘The foghorn of a ship out at sea boomed across the water, as though…’

We now have a working simile!

Step 4: Construct the simile

So now we have something that looks a bit like this:

‘The roaring foghorn of a ship out at sea droned like…’

All that’s left to do now is actually construct the simile. What is the ship’s droning like?

The beauty of writing similes is that you’re only limited by your imagination. So you might come up with something like this:

‘The roaring foghorn of a ship out at sea droned like an avalanche of sound, cascading across the waves.’


‘The roaring foghorn of a ship out at sea droned like the melancholy song of the whales plunging beneath it.’

The possibilities are endless.

So there you have a quick way to construct similes! You can use this technique whenever you get stuck on what to write about, and you can always chain your similes into other descriptive writing. Remember, this technique can be used to describe anything that happens in your character’s immediate environment, but can also be used to describe their feelings too. Instead of describing something being sensed, describe an emotion being felt.

For example: ‘Fear clutched at Mary’s heart like an icy hand’ or something to that effect.

Writing creatively allows you to express your imagination to the fullest extent, so have fun with it!

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