8 Ways to Practice Idioms in Class

Idioms are pervasive in the English language, especially in TV shows and movies. Almost all students love idioms, and they generally enjoy learning these fun, wacky expressions of ours. But English learners know that idioms can be difficult to learn and remember because the words or phrases don’t literally match the meanings. Luckily, there are a variety of fun ways to practice idioms. Try some of my favorite methods below, and please share your favorite techniques in our comments section.

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner (March 17), we’re featuring our Lucky Idioms poster this month. But the ideas below can be used with any list of idioms that you want to practice in class!

1. Posters

When you hang our idioms posters (or ones your students have created) around your class, your learners will be exposed to them daily. Being able to visualize the idioms is very helpful for retention! Our premade posters include:

2. Make Your Own Posters

Have students make their own posters! Choose a list of idioms, such as the “green” idioms from page 7 of our intermediate-level St. Patrick’s Day lesson. Get your learners to follow a similar style to our posters (e.g., Lucky Idioms) where they write the idioms and draw an image that represents the idiomatic meaning (have them try to include the literal meaning as well, if they can). This creative exercise will help students visualize and retain the meanings, and you can decorate your classroom with all the posters.

3. Skits

Writing dialogues and presenting skits is a fun, entertaining way to practice idioms, and students will get a lot of exposure both by writing their own dialogues and watching their classmates’ skits. Break your class into pairs or groups and assign about five idioms that they must include in their dialogues. Try to have more than one pair/group use the same idioms—this will ensure students are exposed to the idioms a few times in different contexts.

4. Matchup

Write out a list of idioms and definitions that you’ve been studying in class. Or, better yet, have pairs or small groups of students write out the definitions in their own words. Cut up the word lists, hand them to another pair or group, and get students to match up the idioms and meanings. You could make this a weekly task where students have to bring in five idioms on a certain topic (they can find idioms and the meanings on the Internet, but encourage them to write the definitions in their own words to demonstrate their understanding).

5. Speaking

Sharing a personal experience really helps to plant an idiom firmly in your students’ minds. Put students into small groups, give them a list of idioms, and have each student choose one idiom. They will then talk about (or make up) an experience where that idiom applied to them.

6. Writing

Use one or more of the idioms as a prompt for a story that students can write in class or for homework. Try having students share and discuss their stories in small groups the next day—it’s a good way to include pronunciation and speaking practice into this writing assignment. When you check their work, seeing the idiom(s) explained in context will let you know if the student has truly understood the meaning(s).

7. Quizzes

Put students into pairs or small groups, and have them create a quiz for another pair/group. They should write at least five sentences that demonstrate an idiom in context, along with a blank where the idiom would be written in. Exchange papers with another pair/group, or make copies and have all the pairs/groups do one another’s quizzes. Alternatively, to save paper, the pairs/groups could take turns writing their quizzes on the board.

Example: She _____________ that she wasn’t seriously injured in the car accident yesterday. (Answer: thanked her lucky stars)

8. TV Shows

Thirty-minute sitcoms are generally full of idioms! More advanced learners will enjoy watching a show together in class and making note of all the idioms they hear (make sure you make notes as well because they often miss a bunch). Go over the meanings after the show. See if your students can guess the meaning of the idiom based on the context of the scene—they are often surprised that they can, which gives them a lot of confidence.

Related

Be sure to try our lesson series that focus on English idioms: Everyday Idioms 1 (A Love Story – 20 lessons), Everyday Idioms 2 (First Year of University – 15 lessons), Detective Series 1 (The Case of the Missing Ring – 10 lessons), and Detective Series 2 (False Alarm – 12 lessons).

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12 comments

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  1. tweyenu@hotmail.com'

    Rui Castro David says:

    Nov 30, 2015 at 6:20 am

    Okay, that is fine but necessary to get some really english texts it can help to improve more than only newsletter

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 30, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      Using realia is always a great idea! You could easily find idioms in context in TV shows and movies. There are a lot of examples in printed materials, too, but they may be harder to find. I hope teachers will share any good examples here!

      Reply

  2. dlamoreux@adelphia.net'

    Diana says:

    May 14, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    I’m a newbie ESOL training specialist in Cleveland and your website has been invaluable to me! Thank you.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 14, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      We’re so happy to hear that, Diana! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Best of luck to you!

      Reply

  3. warudkar.manjusha.manjusha7@gmail.com'

    Manjusha Sagrolikar says:

    May 12, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    very useful ideas are there with keeping these things in our mind all this kind of treatment should be needed with our books

    Reply

  4. dorisgertrudis@yahoo.com'

    Doris says:

    Mar 15, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Good morning,
    a quick note to thank you all for the great ideas about working with idioms it is very appreciated, keep the good work, this helps save a lot of time,

    Sincerely
    Doris

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 17, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks for your kind comment, Doris! I’m happy to hear it.

      Reply

  5. mrm81@yandex.ru'

    maria says:

    Mar 15, 2015 at 8:24 am

    thanks!!!
    it’s really useful
    I’m going to use some ideas for teaching vocabulary as well!
    Thanks a lot

    Reply

  6. petercampbell9@hotmail.com'

    Peter says:

    Mar 14, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Yes, playing with idioms in class is fun but it is important to point out that idioms are mainly used in spoken language and very rarely in formal writing. All too often students use informal language in essay writing as a result of a lack of awareness of informal vs formal language and spoken vs written language. Context is everything. Thanks for the material though!

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Mar 17, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      You bring up a great point, Peter! I agree that reminding students that idioms are used mainly in informal language is important. Students will hear them on TV and in movies, and they can use them in conversation, but they are not common in formal writing.

      Something else I didn’t mention in my post was how often to practice idioms in class. I usually did one activity a week, and only in my listening/conversation afternoon class, not in my morning four-skills class. I practiced them occasionally with my TOEFL students too since they come up in the speaking (dialogue) portions of the test.

      Idioms are fun and students enjoy them, so I believe it’s good to practice them (especially with higher-level students), but not every day or at the expense of the other major skills. Thanks for your insightful comment!

      Reply

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