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How to Teach Idioms

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To be fully fluent in a language, you have to know its idioms. How do you teach idioms? It’s a piece of cake! (And, yes, I answered that question with an idiom.)

How to Teach Idioms

What Are Idioms?

Some groups of words are more than the sum of their parts. The meaning of the word phrase cannot be deduced from the meaning of the individual words. These phrases are called idioms, and they are all around us. 

Examples of Idioms

If that definition left you with a hazy understanding of idioms, these examples will make them clear:

  • It’s raining cats and dogs!
  • I finally see the light.
  • Stop pulling my leg!

When you say, “It is raining cats and dogs,” you don’t mean canines and felines are falling from the sky; you mean that it is raining heavily. “I see the light” means “I realize it now.” Someone can “pull your leg” in the idiomatic sense without ever touching you (because they are joking with you). 

How to Teach Idioms

How to Teach Idioms

Idioms are often learned through misunderstanding.  You hear them or read them and wonder, “What is going on?”  But you don’t have to trip over an idiom to learn it; you can learn them intentionally with these activities.

Draw the Idiom

Idioms are often hilarious in their literal sense.  Take a piece of paper and divide it in half.  Write the idiom on the top of the page.  On one half draw the literal (and incorrect) meaning.  On the other side, draw the real meaning.  For example, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” would have one half of the paper with furry animals falling from the sky and the other half with a deluge of raindrops.

Match the Idioms

Determining the meaning of a new idiom is like detective work.  Make a matching game with idioms on one side and their meanings on the other. 

Hangman

Write an idiom on the board as a hangman guessing game.  Tell your kids, “This idiom means “sick.” The kids guess letter by letter to reveal the idiom “under the weather.”

Charades

Write a bunch of idioms on pieces of paper and put them in a bowl.  Draw an idiom and act it out.  Hold up 1 finger to act out the literal meaning.  Hold up 2 fingers to act out the real meaning of the idiom.

Flashcards

Nothing beats a flashcard as a memory aid.  Write the idiom on one side and its meaning on another.  You can quiz the student on either side of the card.  Bonus: Ask the student to use the idiom in a sentence.

Idiom Scavenger Hunt

Find a piece of writing that has idioms (or make up your own chock-full paragraph).  Tell your student how many idioms are in the text.  Have them circle them all; then discuss their meanings together.

Remember Amelia Bedelia

Amelia Bedelia, that lovable maid, was always getting into trouble because she did not understand idioms.  Read Amelia Bedelia and discuss how she misinterpreted her instructions.

How to Teach Idioms

Idioms for Kids

Here is a list of everyday idioms for kids (and their meanings):

  • A dime a dozen (common)
  • Break a leg (good luck)
  • Call it a day (stop working)
  • Cut corners (to save time, you did not do a task well)
  • Cut me some slack (stop being critical of me)
  • Easy does it (do it slowly and carefully)
  • Get your act together (take care and do better)
  • Hang in there (don’t give up)
  • Miss the boat (too late)
  • On the ball (doing a good job / staying on task)
  • Raining cats and dogs (raining heavily)
  • Pulling my leg (teasing me)
  • Better late than never (better to do it–even if it’s overdue–than not do it at all)
  • Best of both worlds (an ideal situation)
  • Bent out of shape (upset)
  • Under the weather (sick)
  • You can say that again (I agree with you)
  • Your guess is as good as mine (I don’t know)
  • We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it (we will figure it out later)
  • Pull yourself together (calm yourself)
  • Hit the sack/hay (go to bed)
  • By the skin of your teeth (just barely)
  • A wild goose chase (a pointless thing)
  • A piece of cake (easy)
  • Let the cat out of the bag (tell a secret)
How to Teach Idioms

Teaching Idioms

Idioms may seem silly, but they are used all the time.  To know them is to fully understand the English language.  So get a move on, and don’t miss the boat!  Have fun teaching idioms to your kids.

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