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ESL Lesson Plan: Using Proverbs as Inspiration

written by: KellenKautzman • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 8/2/2012

Teach these proverbs to your English as a Second Language (ESL) students for their benefit. It will give them a great exposure to American language and also enhance their knowledge of our culture.

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    Think About It

    ThinkingMan Rodin Using inspirational English proverbs are a profound way to grab your ESL students' attention. The following ten quotes are very common in English and are important for an ESL learner to understand to feel closer to the pulse of the English-speaking culture. Take the time to teach these common quotes to your students for their benefit.

    Begin by showing your students the following list of inspirational sayings in English. Download a few common sayings by clicking on the link, and have them write what they believe the sayings mean on this inspirational ESL worksheet. Below you'll find an explanation you can provide to your students for each proverb.

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    Many Hands Make Light Work.

    Ask your students to give you an example of a difficult task. Towing a car, lifting a couch, and moving a lot of groceries are some examples of hard work. Have your students guess what they believe this sentence means before explaining to them that this proverb means that the more people you have helping, the easier it is.

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    Don't Count Your Chickens Before They're Hatched.

    What does counting chickens have to do with anything? People who raise chickens need to know how many chickens they are going to have. They count the eggs that their chickens lay and guess how many chickens they will have. This phrase simply means that you don’t know how much you are going to earn, until you’ve earned it.

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    An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.

    Ask your ESL students if they think doctors hate apples, or if apples make doctors run away in fear. They will hopefully say, no. Explain to them that this quote simply means that eating an apple is good for your health, which means you will be healthy and won’t have a reason to go see the doctor.

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    Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

    How do actions speak? I thought words were spoken. They are! This inspirational quote simply means that doing something is more effective then simply saying something.

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    You Are Never Too Old to Learn.

    This popular quote is often used when older folks are feeling frustrated about learning something new. It simply means that age doesn’t stop you from learning.

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    A Stumble May Prevent a Fall.

    When people make mistakes, they are often sad because they feel like they aren’t good enough. This inspirational quote means that making a small mistake can sometimes be good, so that you avoid a larger one.

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    Education Costs Money, But Then So Does Ignorance.

    This wonderful quote reminds people that getting an education can be expensive, but the lessons you learn from it can stop you from making silly mistakes and losing a lot of money.

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    Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.

    This final quote deals with the space between people in a relationship. It means that the time you spend away from another makes you love them even more.

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    What Will Your Students Learn?

    Teaching these popular English proverbs to your ESL students will benefit them greatly. They are common in the American culture and yet difficult to understand without instruction. Once they've written and understand the meanings to these quotes, have your students study them with ESL games.


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