4th-6th Grade Field Trip Writing Activity (2019-2021): Desert Animal Metaphors

This is the lesson plan version of this activity. The worksheet version is available as an attached file under "Lesson Plan" in the righthand column of this page.

Sequence of Activities:

Warm up (2 minutes)

In two minutes, ask students to write a list of as many Sonoran desert animals as they can think of. Any animal that lives in this region counts! I like to time the students, as this tends to create excitement. (If you’re located elsewhere, encourage students to list animals that live in your region.)

“Desert Bestiary” (10-15 minutes)

Pass out copies of “Desert Bestiary.” Ask for two volunteers to come up and read the poem to the class. Then do an “I read, you read” with the group. Finally, read the poem to the group and ask them to circle any words or lines that stand out.  (If doing this remotely, ask students to read the poem twice, once out loud and the second time circling any words that stand out to them.


  • What parts of this poem stand out to you? Why?
  • How does Ríos use details in this poem?
  • Why do you think he calls his poem a “desert bestiary” and not just a “bestiary”? (The definition of bestiary is: “A written or illustrated work that describes real or mythical animals.”)
  • What is one literary device Ríos in this poem? Some answers: metaphor, personification, imagery, alliteration (Check out this glossary of poetic terms from the Poetry Foundation if you’d like: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms)

Write METAPHOR on the board. Ask: “What is metaphor? Can you find one metaphor in the poem? Another?”  (Answer: A metaphor is a figure of speech that is used to make a comparison between two things that aren't alike but do have something in common. For example: “Stars are the lightbulbs of the sky.”) Select one of the metaphors in the poem and break it down on the board.

Animal Metaphors Group Poem (5 minutes)

Ask the students to suggest an animal. Write on the board “<Animal name> are …” and, as a class, come up with a detail-filled metaphor for it. (You can skip this step if teaching remotely, or if the student is working on their own.)

Animal Metaphor Individual Poems (12-20 minutes)

Ask each student to circle four of the animals on the brainstorm list they created at the beginning. When they’re done, challenge them to write a metaphor for each one, in the style of Ríos’ “Desert Bestiary, Sonnet One.”

If there’s time, invite students to share or talk about their poems!

Desert Bestiary, Sonnet One
by Alberto Ríos

Hummingbirds are quarter notes that have left the nest of the flute.
Tarantulas are awkward left hands in search of a piano.
Horny toads are the Queen Elizabeths of dirt.
Cardinals are made from wounds that have not healed.
Ants are grains of sand that have hatched.
Snakes sometimes flaunt their diamonds, but we do not love them.
Skunks are photographs of the Milky Way.
Gila monsters are grandfathers on the family trees of beaded purses.
Spiders are tattoos in search of your skin.
Beetles are armored vehicles taking sides in the war raging beneath us.
Scorpions are lobsters sent west by the witness protection program.
Cicadas wear goggles and make noise to warn us of the apocalypse.
Coyotes baying at midnight are broken hearts with teeth.
Prairie dogs at attention are the patient ears of the earth.

Alberto Ríos, "Desert Bestiary, Sonnet One" from A Small Story About the Sky.  Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Want to hear more poetry from Alberto Ríos? Check out his readings in our VOCA archive!




To practice writing metaphors

Education Level: 





Writing Prompt

Time Frame: 

30-40 minutes

Prior Knowledge/Skills: 

Familiarity with similes and metaphors, practice incorporating sensory details into poems

Required Materials: 

“Desert Bestiary, Sonnet One” by Alberto Ríos, paper, pencils, giant post-it note

Literary model: 

“Desert Bestiary, Sonnet One” by Alberto Ríos

Lesson Plan: