Teaching Idioms

posted in: Reading, Writing | 0

Comprehension requires you to understand the different ways in which we use language. An idiom is a common phrase or an expression that has a different meaning to the literal meaning of the words.

Many idioms were originally a literal expression of an activity. However, over time, the literal meaning has been lost. For example, ‘a loose cannon’ relates to the 17th-19th century when cannons were the primary weapon. If a cannon became free from its restraints then it would roll dangerously around the deck. However, now ‘a loose cannon’ just means an unpredictable person or thing that if not kept in check may cause damage.

Other idioms have arisen from rhyming slang and from superstitious beliefs. For example, the term ‘break a leg’ seems to have arisen from the superstition that it’s a bad omen to say the words ‘good luck’ to an actor as it will result in the opposite happening.

Use the following activity suggestions in conjunction with the Idiom Videos.

Suggested Activities:

  • Idiom Worksheet: Create a worksheet with idioms written down one side and the meanings written on the other side but mixed up. Students independently (or in small groups) attempt to match the idioms with the correct meaning. Once all the idioms have been matched, show the students the idiom videos. Students can make corrections as they watch.
  • Draw Pictures: Students draw a literal picture of the idiom and then underneath write the actual meaning.
  • Writing prompts: Students select one idiom and create a relevant story or use the idiom to provide an interesting twist to the story. For example, the start of a story using the ‘money laundering’ idiom might be:
    • Two men sat in a laundromat. The drone of the washing machines and dryers masked their conversation. Surreptitiously, the man with a purple scar etched under his eye slid a bag over to his tattoo-covered companion in exchange for a wad of notes….
  • Research: Use websites such as phrases.org.uk to investigate the history of a selected idiom. Present this information to the class.
  • Debates: Use an idiom as a debating topic.
    – When in Rome..: Should we assimilate?
    – Can’t judge a book by its cover: Relate to racism
    – Sticks and stones…: Do words hurt?
  • Create: Students create their own idioms. Initially, they could modify an existing idiom, so instead of ‘raining cats and dogs’, they might have ‘raining fish and chips’ or ‘raining pots and pans’.
  • Use the slides and activities developed by Christine Michuta