Fab Five for Idioms

I’ve posted a new video on YouTube, and my focus is on three idioms related to teeth. I’ve been questioned why I choose to present only three expressions at a time. Part of the answer is the time limit. Within 10 minutes, is it really productive to cram in 10 idioms? Even a half dozen seems a bit much. Idioms aren’t single words but phrases, so more than three becomes quite a lot to remember. Idioms also require a lot of context for students to grasp not only the meaning but their appropriacy in different situations and relationships. When teaching idioms, consider a combination of the following five activities.

1. Word Scramble Race (for word order). Take 3-5 idioms and write them out on slips of paper. Make sets for small groups. Cut out each individual word, keeping sets together. (Tip: Place the sets in small plastic sandwich bags.) Give the sets of papers to pairs or small groups of students. Challenge them to put the words back in order. The first group to reassemble the three idioms correctly wins. See handout for have a sweet tooth, bite off more than you can chew, like pulling teeth.  Idiom Activities_handout for Word Scramble Race

2. One-Word Association (for meaning). See if students can guess which idiom you are thinking of by listing single words. This activity can be done as a review of several idioms, from as few as three and as many as ten. If you use this for as many as ten idioms, be sure to write the idioms on the board to help students recall them. Models: have a sweet tooth = candy, sugar, desserts, chocolate; bite off more than you can chew = stress, challenge, workload, burden, deadlines; like pulling teeth = silence, secrets, questions, brief, not talkative.

3. Partner Fill-in-the-blank (for usage). I believe I’ve suggested this exercise before. It can easily be used for either idioms or general vocbulary. Write the target expressions on slips of paper. Give each student a slip. They must each write a fill-in-the-blank statement for their assigned idiom. Example: I love candy. I guess you could say I _________. (Answer: have a sweet tooth) Have them switch with another student. Once completed, the paper should be handed back to the author of the exercise for correction. Read statements aloud and make any necessary corrections as a class.

4. Group Improv  (for usage). Again, write idioms on slips of paper. Repeats are possible and usually necessary. Give one slip to a pair of students. Ask pairs to generate a situation that illustrates the meaning of their assigned idiom. When they read the description of that situation aloud, the class must comment on the situations by using the appropriate idiom. Example: PAIR –“We don’t know what to do. We have three tests to study for, an essay to write, and a party to plan. We planned the party before we knew how much work there would be this week. We already invited people, so we can’t cancel the party. There’s so much to do!” VOLUNTEER FROM CLASS – “I think you bit off more than you can chew.

5. Whose Line Is It? (for appropriacy) Write a list of realtionships on the board. Suggestions: parent to child, child to parent, co-worker to co-worker, worker to boss, boss to worker, student to student, teacher to student, friend to friend. Prepare model uses of each idiom. The goal is to vary the usage to demonstrate its potential and its limitations in personal interaction with others. Suggestions:

  • You truly have a sweet tooth, don’t you? / Sure looks like someone’s got a sweet tooth! / Do you have a sweet tooth?
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. / We all tend to bite off more than we can chew at times.
  • Talking to you is like pulling teeth! / Getting him to do anything helpful is like pulling teeth.

Read out one line at a time and ask students to identify for which relationship it would be appropriate.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Sajad Esmaili says:

    As Jeremy Harmer nicely puts it, ‘Great teachers inspire’. You are certainly one such “great inspirer”.

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Thank you. I think in the ideal learning and teaching experience we all inspire one another.

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