Teaching English Idioms

Discussion Words – Focus on English Idioms

Teaching English Idioms

This FREE lesson is taken from You Are The Course Book – Lesson Plans, which is free to download here.


1 set of word cards per small group


T (teacher) prepares the target vocabulary – one set of idioms for each small group. Each idiom should be on an individual small piece of card or paper. The idioms could be:

  • chosen by the teacher to fit in with a topic or syllabus
  • suggested by SS (student / students)
  • chosen at random by T from an idioms dictionary, with SS suggesting page numbers


1. T gives out a set of cards to each group and asks them to put all the cards out on the table so that everybody can see them all. Then SS put them into two groups – idioms they know and idioms they don’t know. T elicits when we use idioms, e.g. in informal texts and everyday spoken English.

2. T asks SS to shout out idioms they don’t know. Other SS in other groups help by giving definitions or translations. T reminds SS to use dictionaries and write down the new idioms. In the case of nobody knowing the idiom(s), T tries to elicit the meaning by giving example sentences and contexts. By the end of the stage, SS should know the literal meaning of each idiom.

3. Optional: T asks SS to write the literal meaning of each idiom as a way of remembering the meaning, e.g. idiom = ‘to work my socks off’; literal meaning = to work hard.

4. SS discuss whether any of the idioms exist in their first language(s).

5. T drills the idioms – SS have to listen and repeat.

6. T asks SS to work with their group and mark the stressed syllable(s) in each idiom. The stressed syllable will be on the content words (and final function words) in each idiom, e.g. ‘to work my socks off’. Group feedback, then drill the idioms again – listen and repeat.

7. SS work in groups: each SS describes an idiom for the others to guess.

8. How many idioms can you remember when they are all turned over?

Optional Practice Activities (depending on how much time you want to spend on this session):

Choose a random idiom (or one that particularly interests you) and…

1. think of a time or situation in your life when you… a) could have said this idiom (past), and b) might say this idiom (future).

2. say the name of a person you know who would be the most likely to say this. In what kind of situation?

3. others guess while you act it out without speaking, although you can make sounds!

4. others guess while you draw a picture to represent both forms – idiomatic and literal.

5. analyse the words. Is it at all possible to guess the meaning from the words – or completely impossible? Research the origin and background of this idiom.

6. replace the idiom in a sentence with the literal (boring) meaning. Compare the two sentences. Which sounds better? Why?

7. think of another idiom or saying that has the same or a similar meaning.

8. tell a story or devise a dialogue/role play by linking one idiom to the next.

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