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