Something we overlook as native English speakers is the common expressions we use in our daily conversations. To those learning the English language, it can be downright confusing listening to us talk in the way that we do. I’m talking about idioms!
Teaching this topic to my students is always great. It’s a lot of fun for students to try and decode idiomatic expressions. Since they learn the literal meanings of words, understanding idioms can be quite tricky for them. Nevertheless, they enjoy the challenge and the fun aspect of it all. Plus, there seems to be a few idioms that several languages have in common which is always neat to learn about even for yourself.
Here’s a lesson that I always have fun sharing with my students, and they love it too.
I start the lesson by writing a few idiomatic expressions on the board and have students explain their meanings. Once they’ve all had a chance to guess, I reveal their true meanings, and the look of bewilderment on their faces is priceless! Not in a bad way, but you know at that very moment that you’ve captured their attention and interest. Then I explain to them that just like in their language(s), expressions and idioms are common and special to each language, and that English is no different. I follow with more examples, worksheets, group work, etc. and finally have the learners use different idioms in role-play.
Here are some great resources for you to use or get inspired by:
The Idiom Connection – this site is amazing! It has every idiom listed in alphabetical order as well as by keywords like “animal idioms,” “medical and health idioms” etc. There are so many idioms I didn’t even know were considered an idiom like “above all,” and “able to take a joke!” You learn everyday J
ESL Flow – this has the most common list of idioms (part 1 and 2 at the top right) with pictures.
BBC Learning English – they have an idiom each week and it’s used in a dialogue which will help learners understand how that particular idiom is used. And this may also be of help to you in creating exercises off of that dialogue.
Fluent U – this blog post by Lindsay Nash is worth the read. She helps break down how and when to teach idioms to students, and how beneficial it is for them to learn to use them in their daily conversations. She hit the nail on the head (!) when she said, “teaching idioms is teaching fluency.” Fluent U also offers a ton of resources to help you with your lessons and lesson planning (videos, worksheets, etc.).
Not only will English learners feel confident once they learn common idiomatic expressions, but they will express themselves more creatively and freely, too!
Share your experience
Have you taught idioms to your class? What has been your experience? What tips or advice would you offer to teachers who want to start this important and equally fun topic?
7 thoughts on “Teaching Fluency”
Thanks for these resources and encouragement to help students with idioms! In some of my classes with health care professionals, we usually take a few minutes as a warm-up each day to learn 1-2 medically-related idioms. They seem to appreciate learning the phrases they might hear from their clients and colleagues in their future workplaces. Occasionally, they have fun using them themselves as well!
My pleasure! Using idioms as part of your daily warmup is a clever way to get learners excited about learning each day. Love it! I’ll definitely start doing the same – thank you so much for your wonderful comment, Phyllis 🙂
Thanks Laila for your insightful and beneficial post along with the suggested resources. Very helpful.
As a volunteer ESL teacher with adult newcomers -idioms are both entertaining and challenging for them. In the classes we always keep a ‘list of the idioms that surface during discussion and students can bring in ones they’ve encountered and want to practice using in the correct context.
Sometimes we deal with the idioms as they come up during discussion, if not too distracting or won’t divert us too far off the lesson for the day . Most days we reserve a few minutes at the beginning or end of the class to address the idioms.
Thanks Again -Lynn
Thank you, Lynn! I’m happy that you’ve found the post helpful to you 🙂 I really like your approach with using idioms. Oftentimes, we hear an expression (or the like) that we don’t understand, so it’s nice to know that you’ve created a safe haven for your students to ask and discuss with confidence the things they want clarification on, like idioms etc – really, that’s how we all learn.
After teaching idioms, I reward students who use them the next day in the course of conversation with a chocolate from my prize jar. The students have fun trying to be the first to use them in context and it solidifies their understanding as they practice the idioms in a more natural way.
I love this idea, Tracy! Giving students that sense of friendly competition is a surefire way to get the majority interested in doing better and thus learning more. Plus, there’s no better reward than chocolate 😀 well, other than being able to speak fluently …!
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