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Teaching Adult ESL Learners About Commonly Used Idioms

written by: Audrey Alleyne • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 7/12/2012

Idioms in any language are a normal part of everyday conversation. Some are used much more than others. This article features some great idioms for your ESL adult students and they will find them very helpful!

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    Idioms Make Language Expressive

    Idioms or catch phrases employ anything from money and health, to work and food. These idioms make a language more expressive and colorful. In this article, you will find phrases using the words: bank, bell, cake, club, clue, deadline and eggs. They should not be excluded from any ESL lesson plan. Here are seven common idioms, which work best for ESL adult students.

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    7 Common Phrases

    1. To bank on it – To put your trust into something; to be assured that whatever you are contemplating or have done is secure. The use of the word bank indicates that your trust, thought or action can be counted as safe in much the same way as money put into a bank. Explain to students that bank, which is a noun is used here as a verb. Demonstrate sentences like “Don’t bank on it" or “You can bank on it."
    2. Saved by the bell – To be saved from a difficult situation at the last moment that you expect, or at the last possible moment.
    3. A piece of cake – Refers to a job which is quite easy to do. It requires very little effort in exchange for a profitable reward. By using the word cake, the idiom represents receiving a reward for doing something which is as easy as eating a piece of cake.
    4. Join the club or welcome to the club – When you recount an experience which you believe to be unique to another person or a group of persons, you may be greeted with this catchy phrase “join the club" or “welcome to the club." This reply implies that the person or persons have been at some time, or are now in a similar position.
    5. I haven’t a clue – This means that the person addressed has neither any idea of the answer to the question posed, nor any knowledge at the entire subject under discussion.
    6. Meet the deadline – This is a very common expression used in today’s business world. It refers to the date or time by which something like an assignment or a job should be completed. Writers, artists and students all work to deadlines; so do many other people. This involves a tight schedule and detailed planning. If a person fails to meet a deadline, he is liable to throw the whole process into disorder or confusion.
    7. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket –This is a trite but true saying, especially in today’s uncertain economy, which means that it is unwise to risk everything on one single venture. It is better to spread your time, money or efforts in several different directions in order to safeguard against possible disappointment or even ruin. In this case, if the unexpected happens, or anything fails in your plans, you will have other means on which to fall back.
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    Examples in Sentences

    The objective of this lesson is that students will be able to use common idioms in everyday speech.

    After students have learned and understood the significance of these catch phrases, they can imagine situations and construct sentences to use in order to solicit the necessary replies from each other. This exercise could take place in a second lesson on idioms and could last about 30-45 minutes. Give students one point for each sentence requiring a reply with an idiom and two points for the correct phrase used in the response.

    Click here to find a media download of sentences and replies, which can be used for each idiom given, and should give students an idea of what type of sentences they can form.

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    One student makes a sentence and the first student replying with the correct idiom, gets two points. The person who makes the sentence gets one point if the sentence could be responded to with an idiom.

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    You can learn more about idioms (Click here) for your ESL lesson plans. Adults learning English as a second language will learn how important it is to become familiar with as many of these American catch phrases as possible, since they are an inevitable part of the English vocabulary, and they will definitely meet them in their everyday life.