Idioms are a part of speech which is particular to a group of speakers or an area or region. It is a phrase which has an understood, non literal meaning. There are many common idioms in English. You probably use many of them every day without even realising it.
Idioms can be confusing for a student who has learned English as a second language, as they may never have heard the idiom before. Often, common idioms are one of the last things a person learns in a new language. Some common idioms are sayings or phrases like ‘Too big for your boots’ , ‘Smartie pants’, ‘Making a mountain out of a molehill’.
Idioms are not meant to be interpreted literally. Rather, there is a deeper, non literal meaning of common idioms. These common idioms come to be accepted and understood by people who share a common language (or sometimes by a smaller cultural group within a language group).
Fun English Lesson Plan for Teaching A Common Idiom
This is a fun example of an English lesson plan that can be used to teach students about common idioms, and help them understand some of the confusing words and phrases in English.
Pre-Reading – discuss common idioms and make a list on the board which demonstrates some common idioms that may already be known and understood
Word Skills – make a list or make flash cards of any confusing words that are a part of the story (in English) that may be challenging for your students (if needed, translate or make another version in any other languages that are needed (such as Spanish)
Reading – Read the story ‘Too Big for Your Boots’ by May L O’Brien ( or another one from the same series). These stories are aimed at children in their middle primary (elementary) years of schooling, but could also be used with older students – probably up to about age 12 or 13 years
Discuss – talk about the relevant example of common idioms that is a part of the story. For example, in ‘Too big for your boots’ the child who is the main character misunderstands the meaning of the common idiom about being ‘too big for your boots’ and so interprets it literally. She becomes very worried about the fact that her feet are going to stop growing, and it is not until she talks to a kindly nurse at the health centre that her fears are allayed.
Follow up and Extension – this story (and others like it) could be extended by talking about safe people to ask if you are unsure of what confusing words in English might mean, or if there is a communication breakdown that needs to be fixed.
Follow Up and Collaborative Learning
To understand the answer to ‘What are idioms’ will take time and practice. As a follow up to reading ‘Too Big for Your Boots’, try preparing a large chart or poster that can be displayed in the room. Write a heading on the chart ‘What Are Idioms?’ Then beneath the heading, encourage students to record examples of idioms that they hear in everyday speech. You could also add a second column so students can record a short description of where and how they heard the idiom being used. This way, students are able to collectively build their knowledge and take some direct responsibility for sharing their own growing English language competence with others in the class.