You Know What They Say: How To Teach Idioms

You Know What They Say
How To Teach Idioms

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 32,366 views

You know what they say. Don’t be a bump on a log. A rolling stone gathers no moss. Put idioms on the menu. You don’t have to beat them into the ground, but at least take them home and introduce them to the parents. They’ll be gunning for you if you don’t.

The idea of teaching idioms to your ESL class can be intimidating, but you do not have to let it scare you off. Your students will get a kick out of taking on some English idioms, and you will be laughing all the way to the bank once you do.

How to Teach Idiomatic Expressions

  1. 1

    Take a Guess

    The first step in introducing your students to some common idiomatic expressions is to give them a list of the expressions you want to teach. Have them read the idioms and then try to guess what each of them might mean. Then, make it a game by giving them a random list of the meanings that match the idiomatic expressions. See how many idioms each individual student can match to its meaning, and then break your class into groups to compare their answers. In their groups and then as a class have students discuss which expressions they already knew, which they were able to figure out, and which seem most unusual to them. To light a fire under someone may obviously mean to motivate or hurry him or her, but break a leg may not seem like the well wish it is. Your selection may include idioms your class has already studied or be a collection of completely new ones if you want to challenge your students. You may also be surprised as to which idioms your students are able to understand and which puzzle them.

  2. 2

    Home is Where the Heart Is

    Now that you have introduced your students to some English idioms, invite them to share idioms from their native language. You can group students with the same native language together. This may make it easier for them to jog one another’s memories. Have each group make a list of ten to twenty idioms in their native language and then ask them to translate them word for word into English. Do not worry if the phrases seem strange and do not make sense. Most likely, they will not. Then have groups switch lists and see if students can guess at the meaning of each idiom. This will get students talking to one another as they try to cipher the meanings behind the phrases. After the groups have discussed the meanings, pair students and have them explain the actual meanings of the idioms to each other. This will give further purposeful conversation opportunities to each student. Have each person choose one idiom from their partner’s language that they like. Then have them explain the idiom to the class and say why they like it.

  3. 3

    Let’s Review

    After your students have had some practice using English idioms, it is time to review. Why not stay in the playful character of idioms themselves by reviewing with a game? Charades is a great way to review idioms and have fun in the process. First, explain the rules of charades. The person acting out the phrase should not speak but must get his or her team to say the expression based only on body language. It should not be too difficult for your students to recognize the idioms being acted out since they have already been working with these expressions and should know them fairly well by now. Your class will have a ball watching each other act out expressions that may or may not have any connection to their actual meanings.

    If acting is not something your class feels comfortable doing, playing Pictionary with these phrases can be just as much fun. Have two students from each team come up to the white board at the same time. After showing them the phrase, the two students should race to draw the expression so their teammates can call it out. The first team to call out the correct answer wins the point. After a predetermined amount of time, you can let each team have one guess based on what the other team has drawn.

    You can also put your idioms into a crossword puzzle review. Supply the meanings as the clues and use the idioms themselves as the answers. Several web sites allow you to simply plug in the words and clues and will generate a crossword puzzle for free.

    Use BusyTeacher’s FREE tools to create your own idiom activities in seconds: create a tile puzzle or a double puzzle now! See our Idioms Worksheets section for free printable worksheets for a perfect Idioms lesson!

Though they can seem intimidating, idioms can bring fun and energy into your ESL classroom when you teach them with a lighthearted spirit.

Change up your normal routine and do some idiom fun with your class today.

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