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A Frame-Inspired Task-Based Approach to Metaphor Teaching

Thomai Dalpanagioti


The paper aims to make a contribution to recent discussions of the application of a particular cognitive linguistic theory, frame semantics, to the field of language teaching. The proposal put forward demonstrates the meeting points between frame semantics and task-based language teaching. In explaining why and how frame semantics can be integrated with task-based language teaching, we point out the key role of contextualization (both situational and linguistic). The implementation of the proposed integration is illustrated in the context of metaphor teaching: we present sample teaching units which raise English as a Foreign Language learners’ awareness of metaphor. These examples show how frame semantics can find its way into the task-based framework with a view to enhancing vocabulary acquisition through the conceptual and contextual grouping of lexico-grammatical items.

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1A growing body of studies have explored the relevance of cognitive linguistics (CL) to foreign language teaching/learning (for overviews, see Littlemore & Low [2006]; Boers & Lindstromberg [2008]; Littlemore [2009]; Littlemore & Juchem-Grundmann [2010]; MacArthur [2016]; Low [2019]). Key CL concepts that have been found particularly relevant to the field of foreign language teaching/learning include embodied cognition, linguistic motivation, encyclopedic knowledge, cross-linguistic differences in construal and categorization, the entrenchment of metaphor and metonymy in human thought and expression, and the usage-based nature of language knowledge and learning (Littlemore [2009: 1-11]). CL-inspired approaches to the instruction and study of foreign languages exploit mimes, mental images, meaningful groupings and noticing activities, with the benefit of in-depth understanding and better memorization (Holme [2004]; Boers & Lindstromberg [2008]; MacArthur [2016]).

2However, as MacArthur [2016: 420] points out, “CL-inspired research has had little impact on actual language teaching” and syllabus design. As regards figurative language in particular, a major obstacle to incorporating it in instructional programmes is its marginal representation in published teaching materials (MacArthur [2016: 418]). Assessing the extent to which figurative thinking is reflected in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) textbooks, Littlemore & Low [2006: 203-209] have identified a traditional approach (which “present[s] figurative language as something special”), a somewhat artificial “conceptual metaphor” approach (which organizes lessons along conceptual domains), and a more challenging approach, which “attempt[s] to integrate figurative language into the textbook.” The challenge is ongoing, and there is currently a call for shifting the focus from the form and meaning of metaphors to their use in discourse (MacArthur [2016: 421]).

3It is in this respect that the present paper aims to make a contribution by exploring the way that a particular CL theory, frame semantics, can be combined with a communicative teaching methodology, the task-based approach, to design usage-based teaching materials on metaphor. Promoting an encyclopedic view of meaning, frame semantics has implications for teaching the paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships between L2 words (Littlemore [2009: 75-93]); it can thus be relevant to an investigation of the conceptual and linguistic aspects of learning and using metaphor. Similarly, the potential of task-based learning to help learners capture the functional and phraseological aspects of figurative language has been touched upon (Littlemore & Low [2006: 198]). Yet the integration of these two models seems not to have been examined from a theoretical or practical perspective.

4Against this background, in section 1 we first briefly present frame semantics and its most conspicuous manifestations, FrameNet and MetaNet; we also summarize proposals for their use in the context of foreign language teaching. We then discuss the basic tenets of Willis’s [1996a] task-based learning framework (section 2), and explain why it seems to be compatible with frame semantics (section 3). To demonstrate the relevance of integrating the two models, section 4 outlines two frame-inspired task-based lesson plans, which raise EFL learners’ metaphor awareness. In an attempt to show how the sample lesson plans can be incorporated into the EFL syllabus and classroom, they are linked to topics in an EFL textbook at the B2 European reference level.

1. Frame semantics

1.1. The theoretical framework and applications

  • 1 There are constructs similar to frames, including cognitive domains, idealized cognitive models, an (...)
  • 2 This means that each sense of a polysemous word, i.e. each LU, should be considered against differe (...)

5Frame semantics is a cognitive linguistic theory that offers a usage-based perspective on meaning. The central idea of frame semantics is expressed by Fillmore [1985: 231] in the following way: “linguistically encoded categories […] presuppose particular structured understandings of cultural institutions, beliefs about the world, shared experiences, standard or familiar ways of doing things and ways of seeing things”. This encyclopedic knowledge is called a “(semantic) frame” and is inextricably linked to linguistic knowledge.1 A word – more precisely a lexical unit (i.e. a word in one of its senses) – is said to “evoke” a frame.2 Every frame consists of specific “frame elements” (FEs), i.e. the “various participants, props, and other conceptual roles” involved in the schematic representation of a situation [Fillmore & Petruck 2003: 359]. Frame semantics connects these situation-specific semantic roles to their syntactic realizations (grammatical functions and phrase types), thus explicitly linking the semantic and combinatorial features of lexical units (LUs).

  • 3
  • 4 FrameNet uses font and colour differences for the names of frames and FEs. Here we use small capita (...)
  • 5 The technicalities of the annotation layers are not discussed here because they are not used in the (...)

6The main application of frame semantics is the Berkeley FrameNet project,3 which has been building an online lexical resource for English, and is also used as a basis for the construction of parallel FrameNets in other languages [Boas 2017: 564-565]. Work in the FrameNet project involves developing frame descriptions (including frames, FEs and frame-to-frame relations), establishing LUs (for single words or multiword expressions) as annotation targets, extracting example sentences from the British National Corpus, and annotating them in terms of FEs, phrase types, and grammatical functions [Ruppenhofer et al. 2016: 7-8]. By way of illustration, Figure 1 provides part of the description of the [Self_motion] frame: the common situation of moving under one’s own power is defined in terms of a number of FEs, which are colour-coded and exemplified in a corpus-derived sentence.4 The syntactic realizations of FEs are provided in separate reports.5

Figure 1. Sample screenshot from FrameNet’s [Self_motion] frame description

Figure 1. Sample screenshot from FrameNet’s [Self_motion] frame description

7The [Self_motion] frame involves a self_mover, who moves from a source to a goal along a path, and is evoked by both single-word LUs (e.g. walk, run, stagger, jump) and multi-word ones (e.g. make a beeline, take to the air). Besides these core FEs, the [Self_motion] frame report shows peripheral FEs, such as cotheme, distance, duration, manner, speed, etc., and the relations between this frame and others (e.g. [Intentionally_act] and [Motion]). However, the metaphorical relation between frames is not similarly marked as a frame-to-frame relation: as Ruppenhofer et al. [2016: 101] explain, FrameNet has not “annotated both the source and target domains on the same sentence, since such work is worthy of an entire research project in itself”.

  • 6
  • 7 This rationale is in line with Sullivan’s [2016: 142] call for integrating CL theories to “capture (...)

8The issue of systematic metaphor treatment is addressed in another, more recent, application of frame semantics, the MetaNet project.6 This project develops a metaphor computing system based on conceptual metaphor theory [Lakoff & Johnson 1980] and frame semantics and driven by corpus data. Considering metaphors as mappings between semantic frames, MetaNet has created a structured repository of interrelated metaphors and frames that act as source and target domains. As David [2017: 580] notes, “the value of the MetaNet system lies precisely in its ability to link linguistic metaphors with deeper semantic domains and mappings”.7 Presenting the MetaNet architecture, David [2017] further explains that the (conceptual, lexical, grammatical) repository is embedded in an automated metaphor identification mechanism which is used to detect metaphoric collocations in any type of text. By way of illustration, Figure 2 shows how relations among frames and metaphors, alongside illustrative examples, are provided in the publicly available MetaNet repository. The [Self_motion] and [War] source frames shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2 are used in the lesson plans presented below in this paper.

Figure 2. Sample MetaNet entry for the metaphor disease treatment is war

Figure 2. Sample MetaNet entry for the metaphor disease treatment is war

1.2. Frame semantics in foreign language teaching

9Frame semantics has been applied in several research areas such as lexicology, lexicography, syntax and grammar in general (Petruck [1996]; Boas [2005]), translation (Czulo [2017]), and terminology (L’Homme [2020]). However, the pedagogical potential of frame semantics seems to be relatively unexplored.

10Only a handful of studies have approached language teaching from a frame-semantic perspective. These studies essentially view semantic frames as a tool for facilitating vocabulary acquisition. Xu & Li [2011], for instance, point out benefits in terms of vocabulary expansion, enhancement of long-term memory and development of pragmatic knowledge – i.e. benefits which arise from the ability of semantic frames to group words in contexts and link them to real world experiences. Similarly, Friberg Heppin & Friberg [2012: 640] argue that FrameNets of different languages will be useful resources for communicative language teaching because frames could help teachers “introduce situations in natural sequence, while annotated sentences could show patterns of expression”. However, neither Xu & Li [2011] nor Friberg Heppin & Friberg [2012] provide sample teaching material to give concrete examples of how to use semantic frames in language teaching.

11Introducing vocabulary in terms of semantic frames is also proposed in Esbrí-Blasco [2014] and a set of activities are provided to illustrate potential benefits in terms of comprehension and retention. In particular, focusing on the domain of cooking, the proposed activities ask students to relate their background experience to frames, categorize specific lexical items in terms of frames and discuss the meaning of metaphorical expressions. In the context of learning German as a foreign language, Boas & Dux [2013] describe a frame-based pedagogical resource which draws on English FrameNet entries and their German counterparts as well as corpus examples in order to highlight syntactic, semantic and pragmatic differences between English and German LUs evoking the same semantic frame. Boas & Dux [2013] report positive preliminary findings on its effectiveness, which is attributed to raising learners’ awareness of cross-linguistic differences in meaning and grammar.

12Lastly, Jódar-Sánchez [2019] seems to offer the most extensive discussion of the pedagogical application of FS by describing a number of ways in which the Spanish FrameNet can be used to teach vocabulary, grammar and metaphors to learners of Spanish as a foreign language. As regards the teaching of metaphors in particular, Jódar-Sánchez [2019: 140-142] outlines some preliminary ideas on how FrameNet and MetaNet could be used in activities that ask learners to identify metaphors in texts or example sentences and to discover FE mappings between source and target frames.

13What is obviously missing from the existing literature is a comprehensive methodological framework for applying frame semantics to language teaching. To narrow the gap between CL theory and foreign language teaching practice, this paper proposes integrating frame-semantic theory with task-based learning methodology. The next sections attempt to show how a CL framework not primarily designed for foreign language teaching can be used for that purpose if buttressed with a framework designed for that.

2. Task-based language teaching

14Over the last three decades, task-based language teaching (TBLT) has gathered considerable momentum in Europe and elsewhere. Various researchers have proposed communicative tasks as a central unit of planning and teaching: as Rod Ellis and his colleagues [2020: 23] point out, “TBLT is not monolithic but incorporates a range of possibilities which share the central idea that a language is best learned through the effort to use it communicatively”. Emphasizing the dynamic process of learning and the role of context and social interaction, TBLT takes a usage-based perspective on learning. As Ellis [2017: 111] explains, in usage-based theories language learning is viewed as proceeding gradually from learning ready-made chunks to deconstructing and reconstructing them; that’s why in TBLT “there is no attempt to teach learners declarative knowledge of target features prior to the performance of a task” (Ellis [2017: 111]).

  • 8 For an overview of the similarities and differences between different versions of TBLT see Ellis [2 (...)

15This methodology uses explicit instruction the least; it prioritizes learners’ engagement, focus on meaning, completion of an outcome, and resemblance to real-world activities (Willis & Willis [2007: 13]). The question of whether or not an explicit focus on form has a place in this context has caused great controversy. Nunan [2004: 21-22] summarizes the strong and weak interpretations of TBLT, which consider focus on form unnecessary and necessary respectively, and supports the latter by arguing for “a pedagogy that reveals to learners systematic interrelationships between form, meaning and use”. Reviewing four different versions of TBLT, Ellis [2017: 112-113] points out that all these approaches acknowledge the necessity of form-focused elements, but they differ as regards the phase (pre-task, main task, post-task or all phases) in which they should be incorporated.8

  • 9 As Leow & Zamora [2017: 40] point out, there is “some conflation between incidental learning (typic (...)

16For example, a TBLT framework which combines focus on meaning with focus on form has been proposed by Willis [1996a], [1996b]. In this framework, a “task” is defined as “a goal-oriented activity in which learners use language to achieve a real outcome” and a lesson is structured in three phases, i.e. pre-task, task cycle, and language focus (Willis [1996a: 38], [1996b: 53]). More precisely, the pre-task phase introduces learners to the topic and prepares them for the main task; the task cycle is organized in three stages: task (learners do the task in small groups), planning (learners prepare to report on the task to the whole class), and report (each group presents its report to the whole class); lastly, the language focus phase has two components: analysis (consciousness-raising activities) and practice on the language forms noticed in the analysis stage (Willis [1996a], [1996b]). This framework does not eschew a focus on form, nor does it allow “form-focused activities to detract from a focus on meaning” by carefully placing them after the task cycle (Willis & Willis [2007: 113]). Willis’s TBLT framework is a flexible, learner-centred model which approaches language holistically, proceeds from free language use in purposeful interaction to awareness-raising language analysis, combines incidental/implicit and intentional/explicit L2 learning,9 promotes both fluency and accuracy, and integrates all four skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing).

17Willis’s TBLT framework seems promising for the teaching of metaphor. It is along the lines of this three-stage framework that Littlemore & Low [2006: 201] sketch a lesson which aims to encourage figurative language production. In this example, the preparation of an ice-cream advertisement in small groups is the goal of the task cycle, during which learners are likely to produce creative figurative language; an advertisement for other food products which employs metaphor can be used in the pre-task, while during the language focus phase learners’ attention can deliberately be drawn to conventional and novel figurative language use. This example hints at the potential of TBLT for teaching the different aspects of metaphor (e.g. conceptual, lexico-grammatical, textual, communicative) by incorporating explicit awareness-raising activities into implicit-learning situations. This line of argument is extended here by bringing frame semantics into the picture.

3. Integrating frame semantics with task-based language teaching

18In this section, we explain how frame-semantic theory ties in with TBLT by tracing their common underlying philosophy. We then specify the role that frame-semantic insights can play in the different stages of TBLT.

19Both frame semantics and TBLT emphasize the usage-based nature of linguistic knowledge and language learning. As Dolgova & Tyler [2019] observe, what usage-based approaches to language and language learning share is “a focus on how contextualized language is used to make meaning” [2019: 940] and “their emphasis on the notion that actual language use is a primary shaper of linguistic form and the foundation for language learning” [2019: 941]. Sections 1 and 2 have pointed out that meaningful, contextualized language use lies at the core of both frame semantics and TBLT; most importantly, both models refer to both situational and linguistic context. On the one hand, the concept of semantic frame captures situational context and, by linking FEs to their linguistic realizations, frame semantics takes account of linguistic context as well. On the other hand, TBLT is also based on communicative situations. It involves learners in using language naturally in order to achieve a communicative outcome (task cycle); yet, it also allows for focus on linguistic context mainly in the last stage (language focus), when learners’ attention is drawn to accurate use of linguistic forms previously encountered incidentally.

20To further demonstrate the compatibility of the two models, Table 1 recasts Willis’s TBLT model in frame-semantic terms. Frame semantics is employed in a different way in each one of the three stages of the TBLT framework. Two comments are necessary here. First, the pedagogical application of frame-semantic theory is dependent on the resources which have been developed from this theory (FrameNet and MetaNet). These lexicographic tools provide interconnected inventories and entries for frames, lexical units, metaphors, etc., and are therefore well-suited for awareness-raising activities. Secondly, the use of frame-semantic tools can be direct or indirect. It is direct when learners, like researchers, engage in their own linguistic analysis in which they focus on specific linguistic features (language focus phase), and indirect during the first two phases, which draw learners’ attention to a communicative goal.

Table 1. Integrating frame semantics and task-based language teaching


Frame semantics


Identification of frame(s)

Task cycle

Active involvement in the frame(s) (fluency)

Language focus

Linking FEs to lexico-grammatical items (accuracy)

  • 10 A parallel can be drawn here with data-driven learning (for a description of the cline from teacher (...)

21In its indirect application, we can use frame semantics to inform the design of the tasks: in the pre-task the identification of a frame (or frames) can help learners situationally contextualize the main task (and hence the lesson), while in the task cycle they are actively involved in L2 production in the identified frame(s), incidentally acquiring the linguistic realizations of FEs. For example, if the main task involves students in describing a journey (they have recently made, or they remember well, or that did not go as planned, etc.), the pre-task can provide the general context by familiarizing students with the [Motion] frame; the linguistic realizations of core FEs, such as theme, source, goal, path, and non-core FEs, such as depictive, path_shape, manner, speed, time, will naturally come up in the task cycle. When planning a TBLT lesson with semantic frames in mind (e.g. the general [Motion] frame or its sub-frames like [Self-motion], [Fluidic_motion], [Mass_motion], etc.), we can add coherence to the free learning process and may even predict the language that will occur in classroom (e.g. manner-of-motion verbs, satellites, prepositional phrases, etc.). In this way, teachers may overcome some of the problems they face with TBLT, such as fear of losing control of the language the learners are using, and other issues related to managing groupwork and the class in general (Willis & Willis [2007: 200]). As the lesson moves from the task cycle (incidental/implicit learning) to the language focus phase (intentional/explicit learning), we similarly shift from indirect to direct use of frame semantics. In the last stage, frame-aided language focus can take different forms and range from controlled activities to more autonomous consultation of frame-semantic resources (discovery learning);10 in any case, learners get the opportunity to notice and practise lexico-grammatical items evoking the frame(s) they first actively engaged in.

22On the whole, as a result of increased contextualization (situational and linguistic), this integrated model provides opportunities for highlighting conceptual and phraseological patterns. By way of illustration, the next section outlines the design of two sample lesson plans.

4. Application: designing sample teaching materials

23This section reports two examples of how we can apply the frame-inspired task-based teaching approach outlined above to the design of teaching materials that can be used to raise learners’ awareness of metaphor. Metaphor is a conceptual, linguistic and discursive phenomenon, and as such it allows us to see the contextualization possibilities offered by the proposed integrated approach, which keeps metaphor contextualized and draws learners’ attention to both situational context and linguistic co-text. The two teaching units provided in the Appendix are designed for learners of English as a foreign language at the B2 reference level for communicative competence. Depending on the number of students, these units may stretch over three or four teaching hours.

24In designing the teaching units, we have taken account of the Framework-related descriptor scale proposed by Littlemore et al. [2014: 142] for metaphor use; at B2 level in particular, it is specified that:

learners should be able to make use of a limited number of conventional and creative open-class metaphors. They should be able to use metaphors for evaluative and discourse organizing purposes. They should be starting to use personification metaphors more extensively. Metaphorical clusters are more in evidence at this level. Some are coherent, whereas others contain mixed metaphors.

  • 11 For a discussion of the value of learners’ metaphorical creativity as evidenced in an English as a (...)

25Littlemore and her colleagues emphasize the significance of incorporating focus on metaphor in the syllabus at this level, as this is where learners start to use metaphor in new ways, often relying on L1: teaching metaphor at this level aims “not only to introduce learners to conventionalized metaphors, but also to encourage them to use metaphors creatively to express themselves” [2014: 143].11 Nevertheless, as MacArthur [2016: 418] observes, metaphor has a marginal position in EFL teaching materials, and it can be found more often in dictionaries or specialized activity books than in coursebooks normally used in classroom. Taking this gap into account, we propose teaching material that is thematically linked to specific units in the Gateway B2 coursebook [Spencer 2016], and potentially to similar units of any B2 level EFL coursebook. More precisely, the proposed lessons might serve as a follow up to units on life stories and health problems.

26Following the TBLT framework both lessons are organized in three stages, and frame-semantic input is provided as shown in Table 1. In both cases, the pre-task speaking activity introduces learners to the topic of each lesson by guiding them to activate two frames (i.e. life and journey in the first lesson, disease and war in the second one). As a warming up session – prompted by a famous quotation in the first lesson, and by a video in the second one – the pre-task in both cases sets the situational context and aims to stimulate the learners’ interest for the main task ahead.

27During the task cycle learners are actively involved in the target frame (i.e. life experiences in the first lesson, a deadly disease in the second one) through exposure to and use of the target language in a real communicative situation, combining fact-finding and decision-making. Emphasis is on building fluency and raising motivation within the privacy of small groups. The use of motion (source frame) to refer to life experiences (target frame) in the first lesson and the use of war (source frame) to refer to disease treatment (target frame) in the second one is encountered incidentally (i.e. featured in the support material without further explanation).

28In the third and final stage (language focus), the learners’ attention shifts to intentional noticing of metaphorical language use and accuracy. In both lessons, learners first explore source-target frame mappings and lexico-grammatical realizations of FEs heuristically. They then get further practice through awareness-raising activities that range from controlled gap-filling to guided writing to free speaking. The sample activities demonstrate how FrameNet (in the first lesson) and MetaNet (in the second lesson) can be incorporated in the analysis and practice stages; the data used have been carefully selected so that the technicalities of these resources do not place great demands on teachers or learners.

  • 12 Alternatively, an evaluation questionnaire could be filled at the end of the lesson.

29At the end of these lesson phases, it would be interesting to have learners reflect on their productions in the task cycle, in light of the language forms they focused on in the last stage of the lesson. In an additional phase, they could try to inject metaphor into their texts to make them more vivid. It is also important to involve learners in the evaluation of the lesson. The teacher could ask learners about their experience in group work and their feelings, what they found too difficult or too easy, useful or irrelevant to their needs, etc. The reflective questions could be discussed in class (in L2) in order to prompt meaning-focused language use and involve learners in subsequent lesson planning, thus enhancing their motivation (Willis & Willis [2007: 40]).12

30On the whole, the sample frame-inspired TBLT teaching units in the Appendix showcase the features of a well-balanced course: combining meaning-focused input, language-focused learning, meaning-focused output and fluency development (Nation [2013: 591]). The integration of frame semantics into TBLT not only increases contextualization but also promotes discovery learning at all stages of the lesson.


31This paper explores the common usage-based ground between a cognitive linguistic theory (frame semantics) and a language teaching method (task-based learning). Our overall objective has been to theoretically support and practically apply the idea of jointly using frame semantics and TBLT in designing L2 teaching materials. Taking account of Drożdż & Taraszka-Drożdż’s [2020: vii] recent call for “translating theoretical positions […] into classroom practice”, we offer sample frame-inspired task-based teaching units that can be readily used in the EFL classroom to enhance learners’ metaphor awareness. Highlighting the key role of contextualization (both situational and linguistic), our approach might help learners discover, organize, practice, and hence memorize vocabulary as patterns in a situational and phraseological context. The teaching materials presented here represent an initial exploration of the synergy between frame semantics and TBLT, paving the way for research that could look at its effectiveness, and learner reactions to explicit work on metaphor.

32The proposed lesson plans may give teachers or coursebook writers ideas for incorporating tools like FrameNet and MetaNet into their classroom materials. Users need to be aware that frame-semantic applications are technologically demanding, and require time and resources to be integrated into classroom practice. They should be focused and organized, so that learners are not overwhelmed by technicalities or too much information at once.

33The focus of this paper has been on “task-as-workplan”, i.e. the task teaching materials, which can then be applied in practice and explored as “task-as-process” (Ellis [2017: 108]). Therefore, once lesson plans and teaching materials are created along the lines set out in this paper, the validity and effectiveness of the integrated approach can be tested through small- and large-scale empirical studies. Evidence from applications in classroom supporting the usefulness of this approach might not only spearhead a wave of research into the application of frame-semantic resources in foreign language teaching, but it might also have an effect on the design of these resources – i.e. extensive application of frame-semantic data in foreign language teaching would raise the need for simplified, pedagogically-oriented versions of the original frame-semantic resources.

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Xu Fang & Li Tao, 2011, “Semantic frame and EVT for Chinese EFL learners”, Journal of Language Teaching and Research 2(3), 649-654.

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I. Sample teaching unit on discussing life stories

Topic: Life stories

EFL Level: B2 (CEFR)

Target group: older teenagers/ university students

Main objectives:

- students will be able to report life stories

- students will become aware of the use of metaphor in describing life events

Method: Semantic frame-inspired TBLT

Materials: PC, Internet, texts, FrameNet

Skills involved: speaking, listening, reading, writing

Link to EFL textbook: Follow up to Gateway B2, 2nd edition, Macmillan (Unit 4 “Extraordinary talents”)

A) Pre-task

“Life is a journey” is one of the most famous phrases that we hear in our life. Have a look at a website with quotes about “life is a journey”:​herstory/​2020/​09/​inspirational-quotes-life-journey-treasure/​amp. Do you also think of your experiences as being different parts of a journey?

Consider Paulo Coelho’s quotation: “It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.” Does it refer to a literal path?

What do you think the topic of this lesson is?

B) Task cycle

1. Task

Form groups of four and read your task.

Your school wants to put on a show at the end of the term. The show is called “The incredible life journey of a famous person”. Your task is to choose a candidate for the show, collect information about his/her life and present it to the class.

Each group should choose a famous person and search information on the Internet about him/her. Decide which types of information (personal information, pictures and visuals) the different members of your group should look for. Take notes using the fact file below.

Full name

Place of birth




Extraordinary talent/ aptitudes/ features

2. Planning

Work together to organize the information you have collected and prepare your presentation about the famous person that your group has chosen.

3. Report

Choose a member of your group to present your work.

Decide which group has presented the most interesting life story. Vote: Who will be the famous person of the show?

C) Language focus

1. Analysis

When we talk about our life, we often use words that have a connection with motion: our life events are like different parts of a journey. This is an example of thinking and speaking metaphorically.

Read the text13 about Coelho’s life and answer the following questions.14

Paulo Coelho

During his lifetime, Coelho went through many obstacles; the most notable event was getting an electrical shock when he was in a mental institution and getting placed into prison. However, he managed to move past all the difficulties and become a healthy and faithful person.

While navigating through the “hippie” and “rock-and-roll” lifestyle of the '70s, Coelho experienced the first of his migrations, that of a writer, moving from playwriting to lyricism and finally becoming a novelist.

After floating from one job to another, Coelho changed his life's course while on a visit to Spain in 1986 at the age of 39. With the publication of his first books, The Pilgrimage (1987) and The Alchemist (1988) he embarked on a career that would establish him as Brazil’s best-known novelist. One of the messages that Paulo Coelho was trying to get across is that one must follow their dreams no matter what hurdles they have to jump over.

a) What do the underlined words have in common?

b) Underline the prepositions that follow the underlined words. Which of the following ideas do they express?




Read the meaning of source, path, goal, and examples in FrameNet (​fnReports/​data/​frame/​Motion.xml).

c) Find nouns in the text that have a connection with motion and are used to refer to

changes in life:

difficulties in life:

2. Practice

Activity 1 (controlled)

Read the text15 about Rowling’s life and complete the gaps with words that have a connection with motion and journeys. Use words from the box in the correct form.16

Verbs: go get pass reach climb propel launch

Nouns: direction step journey pathway drive

J.K. Rowling

Much like the main character in her Harry Potter fantasy series of books, J.K. Rowling took a steep (1) pathway to success. Within five years, she quickly became one of the richest women in Great Britain. But there have been many events in Joanne Rowling’s life that have contributed to her (2) _______ from rags to riches.

Rowling’s humble beginnings can be traced back seven years after graduating from university. This is the time when she saw herself as a failure. Her mother had (3) _______ away, she had a failed marriage, she had no permanent work, and she had a young daughter to take care of. This seemingly hopeless situation was the same source of inspiration that (4) _______ Rowling into becoming a huge success. How did this single mother (5) _______ out of poverty and failure to become world’s richest author? With relentless persistence and sheer hard work! Writing became a way for Rowling to cope with her depression. She (6) _______ a turning point in her struggle with depression only after the vision of her Harry Potter storyline became clearer.

The Harry Potter series became a bestseller all over the world, and it was adapted into a hugely successful film series that (7) _______ the careers of many young actors. That amount of success —and obviously, millions of dollars into Rowling’s pocket— would be enough to send many in the wrong (8) _______. At the very least, most people would retire and live a life of luxury. But Rowling didn’t stop. Despite achieving the highest acclaim one can possibly achieve in her field, she (9) _______ on writing. Rowling possessed a fierce determination to (10) _______where she is, and she's continuing to work diligently toward new goals.

Hopefully the zero to hero story of J.K. Rowling will encourage you to never give up on your biggest dreams. Doing what you really like is one of the most important first (11) _______ towards realizing your goals. Whether it be on writing or in any other fields, keeping the passion alive provides enough fuel to continue the (12) _______.

Activity 2 (guided)


Work in pairs and complete the word map around the metaphor life is a journey.

First collect sentences from the previous activities. Then visit FrameNet (​fnReports/​data/​frame/​Motion.xml), have a look at the list of motion verbs and use them to write sentences to describe someone’s (personal and professional) life.17

Activity 3 (free, communicative)


Tell your partner about a person who is important to you. Describe this person’s life: major events, difficulties, accomplishments.

II. Sample teaching unit on discussing health problems

Topic: Health problems

EFL Level: B2 (CEFR)

Target group: older teenagers/ university students

Main objectives:

- students will be able to discuss experiences of health problems

- students will become aware of the use of metaphor in describing experiences of health problems

Method: Semantic frame-inspired TBLT

Materials: PC, Internet, texts, MetaNet

Skills involved: speaking, listening, reading, writing

Link to EFL textbook: Follow up to Gateway B2, 2nd edition, Macmillan (Unit 8 “Surviving disaster”)

A) Pre-task

Watch the video titled “I Am Wuhan: Let’s fight side by side until we win” (3:10 minutes) at​watch?v=s5t8pYYLDH4 . Does it refer to a literal fight?

When you are ill and you are trying to stay healthy, do you think of yourself as fighting a battle? Who is the enemy?

What do you think the topic of this lesson is?

B) Task cycle

1. Task

Form groups of four and read your task.

Your school will participate in a project called “The World's Greatest Problems in the 21st Century” and has decided to make a leaflet with information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Your task is to collect information about how the world has fought against this deadly disease and present it to the class.

Decide which types of information about the COVID-19 pandemic the different members of your group should look for. You can consider different perspectives (e.g. doctors’, patients’, politicians’) about the country assigned to your group and collect information, pictures and visuals.

2. Planning

Organize the information you have collected to prepare your presentation.

3. Report

Choose a member of your group to present your work.

Decide what to include in the leaflet.

C) Language focus

1. Analysis

When we talk about a disease, we often use words that have a connection with war. This is an example of thinking and speaking metaphorically.

Read the text18 from the video “I Am Wuhan: Let’s fight side by side until we win” and answer the following questions.19

I am Wuhan, a metropolis with a population of over 11 million. I am home to China’s largest railway transfer hub and an airport carrying more than 27 million passengers annually. No city in the world embraces more college students studying here.

At the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak befell me. It has been a major public health incident, the most difficult to prevent and control since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. I locked myself down to curb the epidemic from spreading. The lockdown is unprecedented in the history of New China. And the decision was made with enormous courage and sacrifice.

I am Wuhan. Though under lockdown, I don’t feel alone. Over the past month, I’ve seen the first dispatch of military medics arrive on the eve of Chinese New Year; I’ve seen brothers and sisters from 19 provincial-level regions rushing for my rescue; I have also seen a team of academicians, including Wang Chen, 58 years old, Li Lanjuan, 73, and Zhong Nanshan, 84, as well as more than 40,000 medical workers from across the country. You’ve all offered the best you have to back me up! So, I must win this battle! Two hospitals, Huoshenshan and Leishenshan, have been built. Sixteen temporary hospitals went into operation, one after the other. The renovation of more than 40 designated hospitals has been quickly completed. In the early stage, there were only 137 isolation beds, which have increased to more than 40,000. All has insured that every patient is admitted and treated.

I am Wuhan. I know people in the rear are fighting as hard as those on the frontline. They’ve kept sending me food and medical supplies. I am well aware of that. I believe our joint efforts will bring back hope to enliven this heroic city. I am Wuhan. We are Wuhan. And we are Wuhan, China. We are racing against the virus for humanity. With cherry flowers in blossom, let’s finish our hot-and-dry noodles. And fight side by side, until we win!

a) What do the underlined words/phrases have in common?

b) What do the words/phrases in bold characters have in common?

c) Which one of the two groups (underlined or bold characters) is used metaphorically?

d) Choose the most appropriate name for the metaphor that links the underlined words and the words in bold characters together:

i. disease treatment is a competition

ii. disease treatment is war

iii. election is war

Find this metaphor in MetaNet and read more examples (​pub/​en/​index.php/​Category:Metaphor).

e) Is the sentence “We are racing against the virus for humanity.” (near the end of the text) an example of the same metaphor?

f) Are there any other metaphors in the text? Why are metaphors used in the text?

2. Practice

Activity 1 (controlled)

Read the text20 about a patient’s experience with cancer and complete the gaps with words that have a connection with war. Use words from MetaNet (​pub/​en/​index.php/​Frame:War) in the correct form.21

War as a metaphor for cancer can be relieved of duty

Popular culture has long used war as a metaphor to describe the human experience of cancer. We are attacked by an (1) enemy (cancer) and expected to fight with the help of generals (doctors) and (2) _______ (other medical personnel) who counterattack with an arsenal of (3) _______.

I don’t think so. Cancer begins with a single mistake within our bodies; so why would I want to declare (4) _______ on myself?

Yet everywhere we turn, we’re told to keep up the fight until the (5) _______ is won, as if we can control the outcome. Like all good (6) _______, we’re expected to take up arms, put up our shields and become strong, brave (7) _______, if not for ourselves, at least for our families and friends. And of course we’re told never to surrender.

If my cause of death is ultimately cancer, I’ve already told my husband that my obituary better not say, “After a long and valiant fight, Betsy lost her (8) _______ with cancer.” It would really frost me if my life were defined by some sort of military campaign and my death implied that cancer had (9) _______ me.

The fact is, I never, not once, (10) _______ against cancer. Rather, I made a series of choices with the hope of extending my life. I often describe my cancer as a roller coaster with a series of twists and turns and ups and downs. Some have described their experience as a journey. Others have called it a match, a competition, a rough sail, a marathon, even a dance.

Activity 2 (guided)


Work in pairs and write a hopeful quote to inspire people who experience a chronic disease (such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, asthma). Work in the following way:

Have a quick look at a website with hopeful quotes:​living-with-cancer/​sharing-hope/​hopeful-quotes. Notice the length of the quotes and the metaphorical language used.

Decide on the metaphor you will use. To get some ideas, read the last paragraph of the previous text once again. Tip: you can find words/phrases related to competition, motion, etc. to help you write your hopeful quote in MetaNet (​pub/​en/​index.php/​Category:Frame).

Activity 3 (free, communicative)


Report your hopeful quotes to the rest of the class and decide which one is the most inspiring. Give reasons for your decision.

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1 There are constructs similar to frames, including cognitive domains, idealized cognitive models, and mental spaces, which are used in other CL frameworks to refer to “structured encyclopedic knowledge” [Cienki 2007].

2 This means that each sense of a polysemous word, i.e. each LU, should be considered against different background knowledge.


4 FrameNet uses font and colour differences for the names of frames and FEs. Here we use small capitals for the names of FEs and square brackets for frames.

5 The technicalities of the annotation layers are not discussed here because they are not used in the proposed lesson plans. However, to briefly illustrate how FrameNet links FEs to their syntactic realizations in order specify the constituents with which words combine in both semantic and syntactic terms, we can consider the following example of jump (v) as annotation target and the corresponding valence pattern.

Image 10000000000002880000001246C1C249F2889305.png

Image 100000000000015D00000043086798C52810C32C.png


7 This rationale is in line with Sullivan’s [2016: 142] call for integrating CL theories to “capture metaphoric language in its linguistic and conceptual entirety”. For example, conceptual metaphor theory captures only the conceptual structure of metaphors, while frame semantics can also account for the way words and phrases evoke the source and target domains of metaphor.

8 For an overview of the similarities and differences between different versions of TBLT see Ellis [2017], who distinguishes “task-based” from merely “task-supported” language teaching [2017: 111], but also highlights that “TBLT does not prescribe a narrow set of techniques and does not constitute a totally uniform way of teaching” [2017: 114]. In this paper we employ Willis’s [1996a] task-based learning framework.

9 As Leow & Zamora [2017: 40] point out, there is “some conflation between incidental learning (typically associated with ‘picking up’ a language and opposed to intentional learning) and implicit learning (typically associated with a lack of awareness and opposed to explicit learning)”. In the TBLT framework discussed here learners’ attention is intentionally/ explicitly drawn to specific L2 forms during the language focus phase after they have been involved in incidental/ implicit learning during the task cycle while working to achieve a communicative goal.

10 A parallel can be drawn here with data-driven learning (for a description of the cline from teacher-led to learner-led DDL activities see Gilquin & Granger [2010: 362-365]) and for a brief overview of deductive and inductive approaches to L2 corpus use see Dolgova & Tyler [2019: 954-955]).

11 For a discussion of the value of learners’ metaphorical creativity as evidenced in an English as a Lingua Franca corpus, see Pitzl [2018].

12 Alternatively, an evaluation questionnaire could be filled at the end of the lesson.

13 The text is based on and .

14 Key: a) verbs of motion, b) source: from; goal: to, on; path: through, past, over, c) changes in life: migrations, life’s course; difficulties in life: hurdles

15 The text is based on and .

16 Key: 1. pathway, 2. journey, 3. passed, 4. propelled, 5. climb, 6. reached, 7. launched, 8. direction, 9. went, 10. get, 11. steps, 12. drive

17 To check their sentences grammatically, students can be guided to use FrameNet’s “annotation” reports or a monolingual learners’ dictionary (e.g.

18 According to the Text Analyzer (, the text corresponds to B2 (CEFR); no changes have been made in the original text.

19 Key: a) disease, b) war, c) yellow – ii, d) disease treatment is a competition, e) personification (city is a person).

20 The text has been adapted from .

21 Key: 1. enemy, 2. allies, 3. weapons, 4. war, 5. victory, 6. soldiers, 7. warriors, 8. battle, 9. conquered, 10. battled

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1. Sample screenshot from FrameNet’s [Self_motion] frame description
File image/png, 13k
Title Figure 2. Sample MetaNet entry for the metaphor disease treatment is war
File image/jpeg, 56k
File image/jpeg, 84k
File image/jpeg, 40k
File image/png, 19k
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Electronic reference

Thomai Dalpanagioti, A Frame-Inspired Task-Based Approach to Metaphor TeachingLexis [Online], 18 | 2021, Online since 18 December 2021, connection on 30 November 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Thomai Dalpanagioti

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

By this author

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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