How to Teach English Idioms With Ease?


Many ESL students don’t feel comfortable using idioms in conversation. So do we need to teach English idioms to students if they don’t like them so much? If we decide to not teach idioms to students, it will be a big “crime” as your students will miss a major cultural element of the language.

on-postibLibraryThere are thousands of English idioms and students can’t learn them all. Yet you can teach the most common ones that we use on a daily basis. The brilliant but relatively  seldom used expressions like “once in a blue moon” can be fun to learn. Students struggle to decode those colorful expressions as it’s impossible to guess the meaning of an idiom from the meanings of the every individual word. Learning idioms is like breaking a magic formula.  Learning idioms is fun and useful.

1. Teach grouped idioms 
Most idioms can be grouped into categories, like idioms with time, animals, similar verbs, etc. Choose up to 10 idioms from the category. Too many idioms will overwhelm your students, and they will hardly remember those idioms. For example, if you choose to teach some funny idioms, you may teach the 5-10 idioms found in this book called In a Pickle: And Other Funny Idioms. Make sure that students are aware that these idioms are usually used in spoken English, Internet, blogs, and seldom in official conversations or written language.

2. Teach idioms in context
Some ESL teachers just review a list of idioms and their meanings. Nevertheless, the goal is to make sure that students not only fully grasp them, but also can use idioms effectively in simple conversations. Instead of translating the meaning of idioms into their mother language, ask students to guess or figure out the meaning of the idiom. Correct as needed. Ask students to give other examples using the idiom you have just taught. Then, move on to another idiom. You may also divide students into pairs and provide them one or two idioms to work with. Ask them to write (and later act) the dialogue and use this idiom in it.
Here is a nice educational video on some most famous idioms that you can use during the class:

3. Fun activities
Fun games and activities is a key to teaching idioms with ease. The book All Clear 3: Listening and Speaking, 2nd Edition offers exciting gap-filling exercises to teach English idioms. This is a perfect book for ‘lazy’ teachers like me. The book includes lessons that start with a short texts with idioms followed by explanations, fun exercises and comics which are helpful for memorizing idioms.

Read More: 38 Commonly Misused English Words!

4. A real life experience
Find the magazine articles, songs, cartoons that use a particular idiom that you are teaching right now. It’s easy to do! Google the idiom and you will find thousand of examples online. You don’t have to force your students to read the entire article, just the headline or the passage will be enough. Your students need to see that native speakers actually use these idioms. Soon enough, your students will feel comfortable to use some of these idioms in real life. Idioms in the News – 1,000 phrases, real examples is another great and cheap resource for “lazy” teachers like me, who don’t want to spend hours searching for examples online 🙂

Resources On Idioms

  1. In a Pickle: And Other Funny Idioms
  2. All Clear 3: Listening and Speaking, 2nd Edition
  3. Idioms in the News – 1,000 phrases, real examples

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the resources and ideas. Idioms is a wide category, and I suggest sts receive some usage, or at least frequency, guidance. For instance, the Collins Cobuild Intermediate Learner’s Dictionary lists “rather” as an idiom in the sense of “I’d rather go” or “I’d rather you went.” Sts need to know that one. “Once in a blue moon” fills a nice niche and can be smoothly deployed by sts, whereas “raining cats and dogs” is probably best avoided except as a linguistic curiosity. The fine line between idiom and cliche might be worth exploring w/ sts, as well as the merit of partial expressions, like “well that’s a silver lining, over the relatively ponderous “Every cloud…”

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