Tips and tricks for teaching idioms effectively to students

Mastering Idioms: Strategies and Activities for Teaching and Learning

Mastering Idioms: Strategies and Activities for Teaching and Learning

17.03.2023

240
1
minutes
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Is it necessary to teach idioms to students? I think many teachers have asked this question and secretly hoped that the answer would be ‘No’. However, there are quite a few reasons for working with idioms.

These are some of them:

1. Understanding listening and reading texts.

2. Participating in conversations, understanding what people are saying.

3. Making speaking and writing more natural.

4. Achieving higher scores in examinations.

5. Understanding cultural peculiarities of the English language.

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There are different types of idiomatic expressions and teachers should make students aware of them.

Type of idiomatic expression                    

Example                                  

Verb-based
Take  advantage of smth
Prepositional phrase
In charge of smth/smb
Noun phrase  
A piece of cake
Sayings/proverbs
Better late than never
Fixed phrases with two key words 
More or less
Idiomatic phrasal verbs
Laugh smth off
Exclamations or short spoken phrases
Thank heavens

The procedure of teaching idioms could be the following:

  • Let students work with the context: e.g.: Reading/listening task, dictogloss, running dictation;
  • Ask students to identify idioms in the text (you might need to introduce the term ‘idiom’);
  • Ask students to try to work out the meaning of the idioms from the context;
  • Ask students to match the idioms with their meanings;
  • Highlight articles and prepositions;
  • Ask students to test each other;
  • Board race;
  • Gap filling activity;
  • Ask students to create their own stories or sentences using the idioms that they have learnt.

Let’s look at the examples of the tasks.

Task 1

Read the text and think if you have a colleague like that.

The other day I fixed up a meeting with the staff for 10 o’clock. I was there at ten on the dot, and almost everyone else was there in good time: everyone, that is except Kevin. He kept us waiting for 20 minutes, then he turned up with his usual excuse that he’d been held up on the train. He does this over and over again, and it’s the same with his work: he only gets things done right at the last minute. I’ve spoken to him about all this, but I’m just wasting my breath. It’s only a matter of time before he has to leave.

Using tasks in language teaching

Effective methods

Task 2

Underline all idioms in the text.

Answer key

The other day fixed up a meeting with the staff for 10 o’clock. I was there at ten on the dot, and almost everyone else was there in good time: everyone, that is, except Kevin. He kept us waiting for 20 minutes, then he turned up with his usual excuse that he’d been held up on the train. He does this over and over again, and it’s the same with his work: he only gets things done right at the last minute. I’ve spoken to him about all this, but I’m just wasting my breath. It’s only a matter of time before he has to leave. 

Task 3

Match the idioms from the text with their meaning.

make smb late
recently
before the time you need to be somewhere
say things that smb doesn’t listen to 
arrange smth to happen 
at the exactly the time arranged
make smb wait for you
repeatedly
arrive (usually late)
at the latest possible time
smth will definitely happen, just you don’t know when

How to teach vocabulary effectively

 Answer key

In good time
before the time you need to be somewhere
Hold smb up
make smb late
The other day
recently
On the dot
at the exactly the time arranged
Keep smb waiting
make smb wait for you
Waste your breath
Say things that smb doesn’t listen to 
Fix smth up
arrange smth to happen
(Only) a matter of time
smth will definitely happen, just you don’t know when
(Right) at the last minute
at the latest possible time
Turn up
arrive (usually late)
Over and over again
repeatedly

Add as many practice activities as the time allows.

L1 in teaching English

Language 1 could be beneficial for teaching idioms.

You could use the task below.

Translate the following idioms into your L1. Are there similar idioms in your L1?

  • It’s raining cats and dogs;
  • To hit someone below the belt;
  • To have a bee in your bonnet;
  • To make ends meet.

You could give some advice to your students:

  • Avoid overusing idioms;
  • Use idioms mostly in informal writing and speaking;
  • Use idioms when you are sure that you fully understand the meaning of them to avoid awkward situations and to keep writing natural.

Now you know how to effectively teach idioms to your students! By incorporating the strategies and activities discussed in this article, you can help your students comprehend and communicate more effectively in English. 

Remember to make them aware of the different types of idiomatic expressions, allow them to work with the context, identify idioms, and match them with their meanings

Reinforce their understanding of idioms with practice activities such as board race and gap filling. 

And finally, caution them against overusing idioms and encourage them to use them only when they fully understand their meaning. 

Make vocabulary recycling in class more interesting!

Best games

With these tools in your teaching arsenal, your students will be well on their way to mastering idioms.

Article authors & editors
  • Helen Taranenko

    Helen Taranenko

    Author

    CELTA, CELT-P/S Course trainer, International speaking examiner

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