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7 Creative Activities to Teach Idioms

Teaching idioms is an essential element of any ELA classroom.  It provides important support for second language learners, but it also helps native speakers add more interest and color to their writing.  

I started my teaching career in Beijing China at an international school. It didn’t take me long to realize that my second language speakers would often be confused by the multitude of idiomatic expressions I incorporated into my daily teaching. In fact, to my surprise, even my English as a first language speakers struggled with understanding these expressions!

I knew I had to come up with some creative ways of teaching idioms into my classroom.  Below are some of my favorite strategies to help students learn, practice, and use idioms effectively and correctly in their conversation and writing.

1. Incorporate Idioms into the Classroom Decor

Set up an Interactive bulletin board in your classroom to expose students to a variety of idiomatic expressions they may encounter. One way to do this is to have an idiom of the week board. Each week swap out the idiom and present it to the class by providing the definition, a picture, and an example of it in use. You might also share a story from your own life that incorporates the idiom to make it more memorable.  Encourage your students to use that particular idiom during the week and provide a small incentive for when a student uses it properly in their writing or in conversation.

Idiom of the Week

2. Examine idioms in text conversations

Instead of providing definitions and examples for idioms, try giving students the opportunity to guess the meaning of an idiom based on its use in context. One way I love to do this is through text message conversations and song lyrics.

I would provide students with text message conversations for teens that seamlessly incorporate idiomatic expressions within the conversation.  I had students attempt to infer the meaning of the idiom based on how it was used in the conversation. It’s amazing how much more they will retain when you start by having them determine the meaning rather than the opposite (where you provide the definition in advance).  

I also would have students attempt to write their own text message conversations, so they could apply what they learned to different situations.

Idiom Text Messages3. Use idiom discussion starters

Idioms are an easy way to spark discussion.  I use printable cards with different discussion prompts or writing prompts. Each prompt contains an English idiom, so students will learn the meaning of the idiom through writing or speaking!  Some examples of the prompts include:

  • Are you someone who usually jumps on the bandwagon?
  • Describe a time when you had to burn the midnight oil.
  • What is something that gets under your skin?

Students need to have an understanding of the idiom in order to have the conversation or start writing!

Idiom Discussion Cards4. Use idioms to give advice

Idioms are often used to give useful and practical advice.  I compiled my favorite idioms that give advice and I love to share them with students.  For every 10 advice idioms I share, I also have students complete an assignment where they read scenarios and input which idiom would be appropriate advice for that particular situation. Some advice idioms include:

  • Don’t be a doubting Thomas.
  • Take what someone says with a grain of salt.
  • You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
  • Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Idiom Advice Activity

5. Bring idioms into lessons during holidays

The holidays are my favorite time to bring idioms into the classroom because students can use the expressions in a timely way.  For example, around Valentine’s Day, you might share with students different expressions related to love and heartbreak. Here are a few examples:

  • Going dutch
  • Have a crush on someone
  • To pop the question

Teaching Valentines Day Idioms

At Christmas time, you can share expressions about gift-giving, decorating, or snowy weather.  I like to share the 12 Days of Idioms leading up to the holiday break.

For example, some I might share include:

  • Trim the tree
  • Snowbirds
  • Snowball effect

Teaching Christmas Idioms

And, at Halloween, you can teach students spooky and creepy idiomatic expressions like:

  • Having skeletons in the closet
  • Stab someone in the back
  • Digging your own grave

Halloween Idioms

Holidays aren’t the only time you can organize your idiom instruction by topic. Consider using a theme like the weather, the body, or animals and teaching a few idioms related to that particular topic.

Idiom Resource Bundle

6. Practice idioms with games + immersive activities 

One of my favorite activities to do with idioms is an escape room! Students work in groups to circulate the room and problem-solve different puzzles, games, and activities related to idioms. This is usually a big challenge, but it is a fun way to expose students to new idioms and also tests and practices their understanding of the idioms they learned throughout the year!  

Idiom Escape Room

Another fun idiom-related game is holding an idiom paper fortune teller.  These are just fun to have in your classroom as an early finisher activity or as a brain break where students attempt to guess the meaning of 8 new idioms.

Fortune Teller for Teaching Idioms

7. Celebrate students with idiom awards

Consider hosting an awards ceremony where each of the awards relates an idiom to the personality of your students.  For example, a student may receive the Eagle Eye award for their attention to detail, or the Heart on Your Sleeve award for someone who expresses their emotions freely and openly, or the Big Cheese award to a leader.  This is an easy way to make students feel special, but it also allows students to retain a stronger understanding of each of the expressions.

Idiom Awards

Idioms are part of everyday speech, but by intentionally devoting time to teaching them into our classroom, we can better equip our second language speakers and also make native English speakers more confident to use these expressions in their own writing and speech.

If you liked these creative idiom activities, many of them are included in my Idiom Resource BundlePlease note: Not all the resources mentioned in this post are in the bundle. Please read the description of the bundle carefully before grabbing it.

Idiom Resource Bundle

Get more tips and resources for teaching ELA skills by clicking here.

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