Try These 7 Conversation Based Idiom Activities with Your ESL Students

teaching idioms

1. Idiom Introduction

To introduce the topic of idioms to your students, lead a class discussion about the way people talk. Explain that idioms are phrases that have a meaning different from their literal meaning. Ask students to volunteer any such phrases they have heard. Then give them a few examples to cement the understanding of idioms in their minds. Have groups of students work together to list as many idioms as they can think of.

2. Idiom Research

Give groups of three students a set of four or five idioms to research. For each idiom, they should find a definition (available online), give an example of the idiom in context and explain its origin (if possible). The group should then use this set of idioms in a dialogue they write together. Once all groups have finished, have each group share its dialogue with the rest of the class.


3. Literature’s Idioms

Choose a reading selection for your students that is sprinkled with idioms. If you are not already working with such a text, try ‘My Momma Likes to Say’ or ‘Even More Parts’ or other similar idiom based picture books. Then, have groups of three or four students read the texts and locate any idioms within it. The groups should then discuss those idioms and try to determine their meanings based on the context. Have each group work with one book each day until every group has dissected each literature selection.

4. Mixed Up Idioms

Write some original sentences that use unusual or interesting idioms. Transfer the sentence to index cards one word per card. Give pairs of students one set of cards and see if they can unscramble the sentences and guess the meaning of the idiom in that sentence. Have pairs of students write their own sentences on index cards, also including idioms, and exchange with a partner. Students then try to unscramble those sentences as well.

5. Photo Finishes

Give groups of four to five students an unfamiliar idiom along with two pictures. One picture should be the literal representation of the idiom. (Do an image search at google.com to find these.) The second picture should be the nonliteral meaning of the idiom. The groups should look at these pictures and work together to interpret the meaning of the idiom. Once they have figured it out and checked their answer with you, have them share their interpretation (and pictures) with the class.

images for idiom

6. Idiomatic Culture

Give your student a list of common U.S. English idioms and challenge groups of about three students to make conclusions about U.S. culture based on the idioms. Then, give those same groups a list of British idioms and ask them to do the same.

7. Idiom Interviews

Have students interview each other on the topic of idioms. Students should ask for information on what idioms have given their fellow students trouble in English and why they think learning idioms is or isn’t important. Then, ask each person in your class to do a second interview, this time with a native English speaker. These interview questions should elicit the native speaker’s opinion on learning idioms. Is it important for ESL students? What advice would the native speaker give an ESL student who is trying to learn idioms? What idioms do they think are the most important for ESL students to learn?

Briefsource: Busy English