Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice

Let the dice launch your students’ next poems

This year I’m teaching a new poetry class. Every week, we write a new poem, and so far, we’ve written odes, villanelles, list poems, cinquains, apologies, and poems on a variety of themes, such as “cold water,” “silence,” and more. Recently, somewhere online — I can’t remember where — I saw an ad for Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice and knew I had to order a set.

Just so you know, I paid twenty dollars for my set on Amazon. However, since I purchased mine, I’ve noticed social media ads promoting $8 sets of the dice using this teachers-only webpage.

Anyway, I had seen Taylor Mali read his poetry at a Write to Learn Conference in Missouri several years ago, and so I was familiar with his work. However, I didn’t realize until recently that he has also started making these little cubic gems.

Watch Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make”


Metaphor Dice are excellent tools for inspiring evocative, poem-worthy ideas. The words set the stage for deeper, extended critical thinking. Your students will cling to the possibilities!

Once I quickly explained the dice, I cleared off a table and had students roll the dice one by one to find the inspiration for their poem of the week, which we simply called our metaphor poems.

It was fun to roll the Metaphor Dice, and see the unique, unexpected, and powerful metaphors surface. @MetaphorDice

Each original Metaphor Dice set includes four red, four white, and four blue dice. The red dice feature abstract concepts such as passion, the past, and love. The white dice feature adjectives such as mad, unruly, and solemn. The blue dice feature objects such as a blessing, a wedding gown, and animal. Students roll all twenty-four dice until they find a combination they like.

Here are some examples:

Even though the sixteen dice offer endless options, my poetry class students did become accustomed to the choices even after one use. I’m not sure that they’ll be as excited to get the dice out again, or at least anytime soon, so…

…additional dice sets might be key.

A set of Metaphor Dice named the Erudite Expansion Set offers nine dice and is available for $15. According to Mali’s website, with the expansion set, “No words are repeated from the original set, but they are likely to be bigger, rarer, or just a little quirkier. Some may send you to the dictionary, but not all.” Some of the words, based on the photos on the website, include sacrosanct, lens, and epiphany. Those sound awesome.

For more options, you can purchase paper Metaphor Dice that include thirty words. These are blank on the reverse side, so you can write your own words. After a students rolls all twelve, they can scan their results, rearrange them, and otherwise play with them until an interesting metaphor reveals itself.

Since some students might need a little guidance getting started with their poems after rolling the dice, Mali has included some helpful tips on a brochure included in the box.

Metaphor Dice brochure
Metaphor Dice brochure

One of the tips that I especially like is to encourage students to use phrases such as “which is to say” in order to build their poems beyond the root metaphor. Another idea: have students play with their metaphor concepts by changing up the “to be” verb. For example, instead of “victory is a desperate songbird,” one could try “victory dreamed of being a desperate songbird” or “the desperate songbird of victory.”

The video below features Mali demonstrating Metaphor Dice and explaining different approaches to using the dice.

I plan to have the dice available the next time I assign a freestyle poem… a poem without a specific theme or form. The dice should provide the spark for some students to take off with.

Watch this video where poet Andrea Gibson recites an incredible poem sparked by the metaphor combo of you, favorite, and dance.

Here’s a poem created by one of my students with the help of Metaphor Dice.

A portion of a student-written metaphor poem inspired by Metaphor Dice

There’s an app for that.

And, of course, there’s a Metaphor Dice app for mobile devices. For $1.99, I purchased an easy-to-use app that rolls a red, white, and blue metaphor elements with a swipe to the right. The app also can share your poem to a social media account, from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter to Pinterest. Another feature: the Jumpstart will write a sentence-style poem based on the dice you roll.

A metaphor poem written using the new Metaphor Dice app
One of my attempts with my new Metaphor Dice app.

Here’s another poem prompted by the Metaphor Dice app:

A metaphor poem
Another attempt with my new Metaphor Dice app.

One final benefit: movement!

Metaphor Dice added movement (always a plus!) to my primarily desk-seated class. It was nice to have students up and moving around, taking turns rolling until they found a word combination that resonated with them.

On the day we experimented with Metaphor Dice, my poetry students worked well after rolling the dice. Their unique metaphors spurred them back to their desks and they worked independently-yet-socially (as this group of awesome kids can do!) on their poems of ten lines or more. The class decided that ten lines would be sufficient for this first foray into our metaphor-inspired poems.

I hope this post gives you some inspiration for “mixing up” your poetry and English classes. Students are drawn to the game-inspired touch of Metaphor Dice.

I’m glad I have a set, and I will probably be ordering more soon. As Martha Stewart used to say, “They’re a good thing.”

Have a great week!


Need another poetry idea?

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Love teaching. Make it memorable. | ELA Brave and True

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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