Elementary Metaphors

5.27.22 Elementary_Aaron Langague Challenge Core Skills

Throughout the year, we use a range of metaphors in the elementary studio to put words to the ebbs and flows of the hero’s journey. These include the “Challenge Donut,” “Rubber Bands,” and “Flow.” 

The Challenge Donut

The Challenge Donut is a visual metaphor that helps learners describe when a task is challenging, but not to the point of being counterproductive. The inner donut, or “Comfort Zone,” is a goal so easy it’s uninspiring, and even boring. The outer donut, or “Panic Zone,” represents a goal so far beyond current abilities that a feeling of overwhelm prevents growth. The middle “Challenge Zone” contains sprinkles and frosting and represents where the maximum learning takes place.

During a Challenge Donut reflection,  Acton Elementary learners were asked to identify something in their lives that falls into each zone. One learner shared, “I am working in my challenge zone when I’m learning math, but sometimes it can turn into my panic zone when I work for too long.” Another learner said, “Reading used to be in my panic zone, but now it’s in my challenge zone and comfort zone. It depends on the book I choose.”

Rubber Bands

The Rubber Bands metaphor is popular with elementary learners! They use the Rubber Bands metaphor to describe their progress using a growth mindset. At the beginning of the year, guides introduce the metaphor by proposing that everyone is born with a unique set of rubber bands that represent skills, talents, and abilities. Some rubber bands are long and stretchy. These are skills that come more easily. Others are small and stiff. These are the skills that are harder to learn at the beginning. However, all rubber bands can be stretched. 

During a Rubber Bands reflection, Acton Elementary learners were challenged to reflect on which rubber bands they stretched the most throughout the year. One learner said, “I stretched my practical life rubber band the most. It was really hard to learn about time and money.” Another learner shared, “I think I stretched my friendship rubber band the most because I didn’t know anyone at the beginning of the year.” Some learners noted that their smallest rubber bands were also the rubber bands that stretched the most.


Flow is the metaphor learners use to describe being “in the zone.” It occurs when a learner is feeling fully focused, involved, and enjoying the process of the activity. 

While reflecting on flow, Acton Elementary learners were asked, “What routines help you get into flow?” One learner said, “I like to drink a glass of water before core skills.” Another shared, “I really need it to be quiet when I get into flow. Otherwise, I get distracted. That’s why I vote for silent core skills.”

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