Match the football idioms below with their literal meanings:
1. the Beautiful Game
2. it’s a funny old game
3. to be a game of two halves
4. a potential banana skin
5. to be honest
6. to play the ball, not the man
7. to be over the moon
8. to be as sick as a parrot
9. to be on a winning streak
10. at the end of the day
11. to go down to the wire
12. to be a big ask
13. to be held to a draw
14. by the skin of your teeth
15. to be a two-horse race
16. to play your heart out
17. to give 110%
18. to be strong on paper
19. to throw in the towel
20. back of the net!
a) to feel very disappointed
b) to be a competition between two teams or groups only
d) to win several times in a row
e) more can happen later
f) the outcome is decided at the last moment
g) to be forced to end a competition with equal points
h) to quit
i) don’t make contact with another player
j) unpredictable things can happen
k) narrowly; only just
m) to compete with a lot of passion
n) to be a good idea in theory
o) in my opinion
p) an opportunity for something to go wrong
r) to try as hard as you possibly can
s) to feel very happy
t) to be a difficult thing to ask somebody to do
Picture the scene. You are walking on the pavement when you notice there is somebody coming towards you. If one of you does not move, you will bump into each other. There is room on your left (and their right) for somebody to move to (see picture above). But who moves?
Do you move for the other person? Why?
Do you keep going and when they also refuse to move you stop and wait for them to walk around you – if, in fact, they do?
Do you keep your course and try to force them to move?
This is a fairly light-hearted discussion-based lesson about status, empathy for people we don’t know, etiquette, and personal prejudices.
You will need a set of cards for each group or pair. You can download these worksheets (PDF) below:
‘People’ cards (pink)
‘Appearance’ cards (blue)
‘Activity’ cards – two different sets (yellow)
‘Path’ cards (green)
Blank cards (white)
(Note: using card is not essential – you could also print the worksheets on normal paper. Card would be better if possible, and the different colours make them easily distinguishable!)
SS (students) could begin with discussion questions in pairs or small groups. Establish the proposition:
How often do you walk around your town?
Are you a confident walker or a nervous walker?
How often do you face the situation mentioned above during a normal walk?
What do you tend to do? Do you keep walking, stop, or give way? Why?
What factors influence your decision? For example: type of person, their appearance, their activity (what they are doing), and the kind of path you are on?
Have you ever been involved in an awkward ‘dance’ with somebody walking towards you, because both of you try to move out of the way in the same direction at the same time – and you keep doing it until one person finally stops?
Have you ever had an argument with somebody who bumped into you, or who wouldn’t get out of your way? What happened? How did you resolve it?
2. SS work in pairs or small groups. One person selects a random card from each of the four piles (blank cards are optional) and put them in a row. For example:
They ask the other person: ‘What would you do in this situation – move, stop, or keep going?’ Discussion ensues. The student should state the main factor that influenced their decision (e.g. they give way because the person was elderly) and the next factor too (e.g. the person was carrying something large). Then the next student picks the cards for the next person and the discussion continues. Here are some more sample scenarios:
SS can combine more than one person, appearance and/or activity. For example, there could be more than one person doing more than one activity. SS could add their own factors on the blank cards. Of course some of the scenarios may be absurd, e.g. you might select:
boy heavily pregnant throwing snowballs beach
In that kind of situation SS could pick other cards to replace the absurd element(s). SS could talk about what happens if you swap around factors, e.g. swap the places in scenario one and three. SS could add ‘conditions’ (e.g. weather: too hot, too cold; raining, etc.) and ‘time’ (e.g. early morning, 11pm, etc.) to each scenario using the blank cards.
3. When SS have discussed 4, 6, or 8 different people and situations, they pick two of them and decide what would happen if those two people met on a path. SS discuss which factors are stronger and weaker. Which person trumps the other person in terms of not having to move out of the way? Why?
4. SS look at a number of different factors in an imaginary person coming towards you and rank them from strongest (you definitely have to move) to weakest (the other person definitely has to move.) SS should justify their reasons. Which factors are dead certs meaning you would have to move, e.g. young people may feel they have to move when faced with an elderly person coming towards them, while somebody else may decide they will not move when a cyclist is coming towards them, since the onus is on the person who is moving fastest to exercise move care. A man may decide that he must always move for a woman, and so on. Which single factor is the strongest? This could lead into a whole group discussion. As a twist, SS could discuss different scenarios when walking behind one or more person and trying to get past them – e.g. trying to pass a family group with a pushchair, dog, etc.
5. SS create and write a dialogue based on one or more of the scenarios and act it out for the rest of the group. Some of the combinations may well suggest dramatic scenes, for example: ‘an ugly boy pushing an empty shopping trolley down a hospital corridor…’ could suggest a heart-breaking situation.
6. SS practise writing and saying questions and answers with 2nd conditional, for example:
A: ‘What would you do if…?’
B: ‘I would…’
7. SS go out into the street in pairs or small groups with their notebooks and write down what happens when they get into different situations with different kinds of people walking towards them. What are their natural inclinations? Who do they give way (defer) to? Who do they expect to move? What happens if they change their normal walking behaviour? SS could interview members of the public or other students/staff members at about what they usually do. (Of course, I’m not in any way suggesting that SS should walk into other members of the public on purpose and write down what occurs! Care may need to be exercised.)
8. SS write an essay about the little-discussed ethics of walking around in public without bumping into each other. How has this lesson related to their lives and touched on their habits and prejudices? What will they take away from it? What will they do differently as a result of studying this discussion topic? Why? If nothing, why not?
9. SS stand in a group in the middle of the classroom; T (teacher) says a factor; SS move to one or other side of the class to vote for either ‘move’ or ‘keep going’. T has the definitive answer for each factor. SS who are wrong go out and sit down and the game continues until one person wins.
When students ask me about how to improve their English, one of the things I always recommend is watching the news in English. And you can’t watch the news without running into some common political idioms. Do you know what a spin doctor is? How about a fishing expedition? Keep reading to learn 9 essential idioms about politics in American English, complete with FREE infographic!
Political Idiom 1: Strange Bedfellows
When we say that two people, organizations, etc. make strange bedfellows, we mean that they form an unusual or unexpected political alliance. A sort of political odd couple.
In the United States, the two main political parties are the Republicans and the Democrats. They are usually adversaries (= they usually oppose or compete with each other), so if a Republican and a Democrat worked together on an issue, we would say that they were strange bedfellows.
Example sentence: Did you hear that Randy Republican and Dorothy Democrat are working together on this new immigration bill? Talk about strange bedfellows!
Political Idiom 2: Lame Duck
This is a political idiom that you often hear after an election. A lame duck is a politician or a government that doesn’t have much real power because their period in office will end soon and their successor has already been elected. We most often use this idiom to talk about the US President, although it can apply to other politicians, too.
Presidential elections in the US take place in early November, but the newly elected president doesn’t start his term until January. The previous president is considered a lame duck from election day until the new president starts. Everyone knows they’re on their way out, so it’s difficult for them to get much accomplished.
Example sentence: He was hoping to accomplish more during his last days in office, but he’d overestimated how much he could get done as a lame duck.
Political Idiom 3: Spin Doctor
When you spin something, you present information in a particular way, especially one that makes your ideas seem good or your opponents’ ideas seem bad.
So, what’s a spin doctor?
A spin doctor is someone who spins for a living! A spin doctor is someone whose job it is to present information to the public about a politician, an organization, etc. in the way that seems the most positive.
All US presidents have spin doctors. In current American politics, Kellyanne Conway is often referred to as President Trump’s spin doctor.
Example sentence: I’m not interested in the soliloquizing of spin doctors. What are the facts? The plain facts?
(Soliloquize = (usually disapproving) to give a speech about your thoughts, as if you were a character in a play speaking directly to the audience, instead of engaging in a conversation.)
Political Idiom 4: Politically Correct
You probably know that PC can refer to your desktop computer, but did you know that it has a political meaning, too? PC is a short way of saying ‘politically correct’.
If speech or behaviour is politically correct, it makes a deliberate effort not to offend a particular group (or groups) of people.
Political correctness is a hotly debated issue in the United States. On the one hand, it’s obviously wrong to make fun of the disabled or use racial slurs. On the other hand, some people become so worried about being politically correct that they worry that filling their eyebrows might be cultural appropriation. And my sister’s friend actually told her that it was offensive for her to practice yoga because she has European ancestry, not Asian ancestry. (In case you’re wondering, my sister has not quit yoga.)
In the United States, we have people who hate political correctness so much that they behave in offensive ways on purpose. And we have people who are so politically correct that they’re just obnoxious. Luckily, most people live somewhere in the middle.
Is political correctness an issue in your country? Tell us in the comments below!
Political Idiom 5: October Surprise
This American political idiom specifically refers to elections. So, what is an October surprise?
An October surprise is any news event orchestrated or damaging information released in the month before an election, deliberately timed in the hopes of affecting the outcome of the election.
Example sentence: Things look good now, but we need to be prepared for an October surprise. Anything can happen in the final days before an election!
Political Idiom 6: Witch Hunt
These days, you can’t escape this political idiom in American news. It seems to be everywhere on Twitter and other social media!
So what is a witch hunt? A witch hunt is a politically motivated, often vindictive investigation that feeds on public fears.
This popular idiom comes from a dark period in European and American history when people believed that witches were the cause of bad things happening in society. People began accusing members of their communities of witchcraft, and many of those people were executed on the basis of irrational evidence.
This idiom became popular in American politics during the McCarthy Era, when hundreds of Americans were aggressively investigated for potentially being Communists.
Example sentence: No reasonable person could think this investigation was actually after truth or justice. It’s a total witch hunt.
Committing political suicide means doing something unpopular that will likely lead to the end of your career as a politician.
Example sentence: I know you think these activists are idiots, but you can’t say that publicly. It’s political suicide!
Political Idiom 8: Fishing Expedition
When you go fishing, you dip your line into the water and hope that something bites. You might not catch a fish right away, but if you keep at it, you know that you’ll probably catch something eventually.
So, what is a fishing expedition? It’s a political and legal idiom that we use to describe an investigation carried out without any clearly defined plan or purpose, in the hope of discovering useful negative information about someone.
Example sentence: These document requests can’t possibly lead to the discovery of relevant information! You’re on a fishing expedition, and I think the judge will agree with me!
Political Idiom 9: Red Tape
I saved the best for last!
Have you ever been frustrated by endless paperwork when you need to do something with the government? Then you have been a victim of red tape!
Red tape refers to official rules that seem more complicated than necessary and prevent things from being done quickly.
This is something that I personally love to complain about. Curse you, red tape!
Jennifer founded Next Step English so she could help advanced English learners master the vocabulary that native speakers don’t expect them to know. Vocabulary that will make native speakers think, ‘Wow! You really know English!’
In her free time, she loves hiking, playing Bananagrams, and binge-watching British murder mysteries.
So this happened to me on Monday. It was the last lesson of the day and I’d already enjoyed success with my ‘wonderful and imaginative’ lesson plan (my review) five times – including with a couple of difficult groups – and I was looking forward to winding down with the same lesson plan with a high-level group who are usually personable and intelligent people.
I took the register – about eight students were in attendance. It was too hot in the room; the blinds were down and the windows open to allow a meagre wisp of cool air to enter when it chose. I stood in front of the class and introduced the topic: ‘We’re going to discuss social networks!’
I was astonished to hear a chorus of ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’s from the students. Again, I repeat, my lesson plan involved starting with discussion in pairs about social networks. Not a grammar exercise. Not a review of present perfect, or – heaven forbid – future perfect. Not a spelling test, or a written composition ‘na ocena’ – ‘for a mark’. No, discuss social networks in pairs. I had chosen a topic that I knew my students (aged 14-15) were not only interested in, but absolute experts in. They didn’t know but my secret weapon for the second half of the 45-minute lesson was a Kahoot quiz where they were to answer true/false questions about social networks on their (normally forbidden) mobile phones.
So what do you do when the students reject your (fun) lesson plan out of hand at the beginning of the lesson? ‘We want to go home!’
‘OK, but you can’t go home.’
‘We have to do the lesson.’
‘OK, but this will be fun. Let’s try it.’
I persuaded them to discuss the simplified version of this set of questions, that I had written on the board. Then I led group feedback. IMHO it was interesting and they were more engaged and made some intelligent comment about social networks. (Although they refused to believe that they are, in fact, only ‘free’ with air quotes, as opposed to free without air quotes.)
Again – a chorus of NOOOOOOOOOs. What part of my sentence provoked this reaction from the heart – from the belly – ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’ Was it the word ‘quiz’? Did they associate it with ‘test’ and ‘exam’? Did they still not believe, after months of evidence working together, that I only wanted to engage them with interesting and relevant content? I hurriedly put the quiz up on the whiteboard via the projector and asked them to get their phones out and log in with the Kahoot PIN. This kind of quiz is really fun because it’s interactive – you watch the quiz unfold on the big screen and participate by pressing the answer on your phone. I think it’s cool. My other groups had enjoyed it…
The real knockout blow for me came when the students were entering their screen name or nickname for the quiz. This appears on the big screen and everyone can see it, so there is plenty of potential for writing ‘naughty’ nicknames and getting a bit group laugh. In this case they didn’t use swear words (as other groups had done previously) but one student chose the nickname ‘chcę do domu’ – which means ‘I want to go home.’ Like a child in a pre-school or first class of primary school: ‘I want to go home.’
We did the quiz – all twenty questions – but the wind had been knocked out of my sails and I left the school after the lesson feeling a little sad.
How do you engage students who have rejected your lesson plan out of hand before they know what it is, because they want a ‘fun’ lesson – when actually your lesson plan IS the ‘fun’ lesson? (This is the key question for me, but it was too long to be the title of this post!)
How do you engage students who want to go home? ‘Wolny lekcja!’ – ‘free lesson!’ they chorused. They wanted to be allowed to sit and do nothing but chat in Polish for the last lesson of the day. I couldn’t allow that, but then I realised that maybe other teachers do. Can it be true? Perhaps they baulked at having to use thinking and speaking skills when they would have found it easier to answer a reading comprehension in the course book – which I’m briefed not to use in lessons. Did they think I would be a soft touch because my lessons ARE usually more fun and communicative – or because I’m a naïve foreigner? – so they thought they’d try their luck with getting a ‘free’ lesson?
In this blog post I don’t have the answers, just questions, so if you have any tips for how to deal with or avoid the NOOOOOOOOO!s I would be more than grateful!
When I started reading some of the tweets on this recent trending topic on Twitter, I knew that I had to share them with you! If you are interested in understanding the true character of English people (which is an awkward combination of shyness, embarrassment, and self-righteousness) check out this hashtag to learn more about our quirky ways!
This is a great reading comprehension pack for advanced-level learners of English. Based on the modern fable of The Businessman and the Fisherman, this free ESOL material will have you and your students discussing the time-old concepts of work-life balance and how to find true contentment:
In this very special holiday podcast I’m joined by online course developer and tutor Daria Storozhilova from Smart English Learning. We have fun discussing New Year traditions, resolutions, and predictions for 2018! I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our listeners a very Happy and Healthy New Year 2018!