Activities to Teach Money Idioms to ESL Learners


There are many idioms in the English language, which are based on money and payment. Many of them are so automatically used every day that we do not even think about them. Think about these for example: it is dirt cheap, meaning it is extremely cheap, not expensive at all. What about I feel like a million bucks, meaning “I feel wonderful.” We hear these expressions almost every day.

In an ESL lesson plan on money idioms, first teach your students what idioms are. Idioms are groups of words the meanings of which cannot be deduced from the individual words. This is particularly important to point out to students who attempt to translate from one language to another. Emphasize that if the idiom cannot literally be translated in its own language, it absolutely cannot in another. This is because each language has its own idioms of expression. Let’s take dirt cheap, mentioned in the previous paragraph. The French would say, to express the same meaning: très bon marché, while the Spanish would simply say, muy barata.

Quiz – Match Your Idioms

Here is a quiz students can play to test their idioms. It’s called simply, Match Your Idioms. Make a list of idioms on one side of the board, and mixed meanings on the other. Have them match the money idioms to the meaning. Give students scores for their accuracy.

Idioms —————————-Meanings

  1. count your pennies ———-(a.) to have no money
  2. at all costs ———————-(b.)to be careful about
  3. flat broke ————————(c.) at any expense of time, effort or money
  4. bet your bottom dollar ——(d) for anything, for any price
  5. break the bank —- ———–(e.) bet all one has on something
  6. cold, hard cash —————(f.)small amount of money
  7. for love or money ————(g.)cash, coins and bills
  8. chicken feed ——————(h.) win all m)oney at a casino gambling table

Answers: 1b.2c.3a.4e.5h.6g 7d.8f.

Now have your students make sentences with each idiom, and add those scores to the matching idiom scores. Here is an example of a sentence with the idiom chicken feed:

He works for chicken feed, but he expects to get a better paying job.

Some Slang Idioms

In teaching ESL money idioms, use the opportunity to teach the students some slang idioms as well, because they will also hear these in everyday language. Dough for example is a popular word for money. So a good idiom for them to know is something like shell out dough. A sentence to demonstrate this could be “He shelled out a lot of dough to his buddies after he won the lottery. Some other expressions they could learn are:

  • work for peanuts ————- to work for very little money
  • flip a coin ————————-to make a decision by flipping a coin in the air

and selecting heads or tails

  • stretch money—————— to be careful in making money last longer
  • max out a credit card————to spend up to the limit of a credit card.


Now give students some sentences and have them complete them by inserting the correct idiom. As they continue their study of English idioms, they would become increasingly aware of detecting these idioms in everyday speech, and be able to use them in their own speech.See download of money idioms here.