What are idioms? Lesson Plan Ideas, Definition, and Examples

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What is an idiom?

Idioms are one of those silly uses of the English language that is used to make writing more engaging and colorful. One of the most famous literary characters that was created around the use of idioms was Amelia Bedelia. I remember reading these books as a child and thinking that she really wasn't very smart. Now as a grown up and a teacher, I understand that the English language can be very complex for both young children as well as those who are not native English speakers.

So what exactly is an idiom and how can we make these unique phrases more clear to those who are challenged by these concepts? An idiom is an expression, a word, or a phrase that means something other than what the words appear to mean. For example, if a person says, 'I'm in a rut.' They are not literally in a dug out, trench like piece of earth. They simply mean that they are stuck or in a place where they cannot seem to move forward. One of the scenes in Amelia Bedelia that I most remember is when she is asked to prune the hedges. She takes the phrase 'prune the hedges' literally and goes out to place prunes on top of the hedges.

Common Idioms and Their Meanings

Common Idioms
Meaning
It's raining cats and dogs.
The rain is coming down very hard.
I'm feeling blue.
I'm feeling a little sad.
Give me a hand.
Help me out.
Hold your horses!
Wait a minute!
Stop pulling my leg.
Stop teasing me.
I have butterflies in my stomach.
I'm really nervous.
He put his foot in his mouth.
He said something he should not have.
Don't let the cat out of the bag.
Don't give away the secret.
I got up on the wrong side of the bed.
I'm a little crabby this morning.
Shake a leg!
Get moving!
I'm in hot water.
I'm in big trouble.
Quit horsing around.
Stop playing around.
You took the words right out of my mouth.
You said exactly what I was going to say.
Give it a shot.
Give it a try.
The early bird catches the worm.
Arrive early to get the first chance at something.

Idioms for Kids

Once kids understand the manner in which idioms work, they are great fun to use. The most important thing for children to grasp is that all is not what it seems. Reading a book like the Amelia Bedelia books are a great launching point for children. As you read, you can prompt your children to question if what Amelia is doing is actually what is being asked of her. From that point, there are some fun activities to do with your children or students.

Activities for Teaching Idioms

Idioms create such a colorful and exciting spoken and written language, that I find once students understand how they work, not only do they want to use them in their writing, they challenge themselves to add to the list.

Here are some opportunities to help your child or students extend their learning and understanding of how idioms work.

  • Play memory match up. On an index card, write the idiom. On another index card write its meaning. Do this for about a dozen idioms. Spread them out face down and try to match up the idiom with its meaning. This is just like the traditional memory game.
  • Illustrate an idiom. Assign or have students pick an idiom and have them create an illustration for it.
  • Create a new idiom. Challenge students to come up with a saying that is a new idiom that they have invented. See if the other students can figure out the meaning of the new idiom. You could even create a class book with all of the new idioms in it!
  • Writing challenge. Assign or allow students to choose 3-5 idioms and have them write a paragraph or two using these idioms. Remind students that although idioms are fun, their stories have to make sense. Give students time to share their writings.
  • Finding similar idioms. Many idioms have very similar meanings. In small groups or as a class, come up with a list of idioms that have are similar in meaning. (For example: Don't spill the beans; and don't let the cat out of the bag.)

Most of all remember to have fun and encourage your students to be creative with their writing!

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Comments 25 comments

Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

Cute top picture and title! Yes, the English language must be a bear to learn with not just idioms but also the odd and inconsistent spellings -- tough, bough through - all having the same last few letters and all with different pronunciations. Good thing I was born an English speaker!


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

Wow! Clara, love all the ideas here. Just to share, when I was teaching idioms, it was to kids who do not use English as a home language....so it was hard for them. I especially like the writing challenge which allows them to write 3 paragraphs using idioms. A good start for the second language learner.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

You have some great ideas for teaching idioms which all students and even EFL students can benefit from. I will definitely check out the Amelia Bedelia books which I have never heard about until now. Voted up and sharing.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Having taught ESL (English as a Second Language) students, I can say that they do have lots of trouble with many of the 'rules' in the English language. Thanks for the visit!


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

So glad that you found some useful ideas midget38! I appreciate your visit and comments!


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Yes Paul, even our EFL students (especially the young ones) can benefit from these lessons. I love incorporating books into my teaching and I'm glad you found a new resource. Thanks so much for the vote up and share!


vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 4 years ago

Great idea! I'm sure kids love playing games and learning new idioms at the same time. Voted up!


chuckd7138 profile image

chuckd7138 4 years ago from Virginia Beach, VA

I used to have a book of idioms. The Executive Officer (XO) on my first ship "borrowed" it in order to put a "Daily Idiom" in our Plan of the Day (POD). He only did two and stopped, and I never saw the book again. I still have a love for idioms though. Thank you for sharing this hub with us. Definitely voted up.


sligobay profile image

sligobay 4 years ago from east of the equator

Well I'll be a monkey's uncle! Is it an idiom or am I just an idiot? Slang confuses me and makes me feel like I'm up a creek, without a paddle. We used to monkey around growing up and it was always"monkey see, monkey do. " It drove our mother bananas.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Oh that Amelia Bedillia could be little Miss Literal, couldn't she? :)

This is a great look at teaching kids about idioms and should be very helpful to parents and teachers and even grandparents!


buckleupdorothy profile image

buckleupdorothy 4 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

Love this! Voted up and shared.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

I have found that the more fun that you can make learning, the better it sticks and the less resistance that you get! :) Thanks for your visit vox vics.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Haha, I've had many work experiences where my boss wanted to implement something and it doesn't last too long! Sorry that you lost out on such a good book! :) Glad to have had you stop by chuckd138.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Lol, your comment gave me quite a chuckle sligobay! Using a play on words can really be so much fun once you get the hang of it. Thanks for your visit!


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Yes, she could RTalloni! I hope that others find it useful. Nice to have you stop by for a visit! :)


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Thanks buckleupdorothy! I appreciate your visit and comments as well as the share!


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

Idioms are so fun! I actually really enjoyed teaching Spanish idioms to my students when I was a teacher. :) Now, I better quit horsing around and get to writing a hub. :D


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Giddy up Cyndi! Thanks for your visit! :)


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Useful hub, Cara. I always thought Amelia was just plain stupid...didn't appreciate the lessons in the stories. Thanks for the info and 'common idiom' chart. Interesting hub and helpful-rated up.


Robin profile image

Robin 4 years ago from San Francisco

This is a great guide for teachers! I taught in a school where there were a lot of second language learners and idioms were always an issue. We did a few of the activities you described. Their favorite was drawing their idiom, and we posted them around the room for reference. I can still remember one of my student's drawings of "I'm on top of the world". It was super cute. :)


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Thanks! I thought she was a little dumb myself. Must be why we didn't read many of those books! :)


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

We used to have many ELL students in our school but they have moved to another area in the last few years. Anything that involves drawing I find entices the kids! I can only imagine the great creations that your students made. Thanks for the visit Robin!


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

Up, Useful, and Interesting. Excellent suggestions.

Idioms also help date writing. "The bartender gave the moocher a kick in the caboose" is outdated, because trains have not needed cabooses for years. Idioms might be a fun way to learn history.


cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan Author

You are right B. Leekley, I hadn't thought of that. Thanks for sharing that bit of information, and hello from a fellow Michigander! :)


ignugent17 profile image

ignugent17 3 years ago

I like how you presented your lesson. Thanks for sharing your ideas. :-)

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