5 Ways to Teach ESL Idioms

March 10, 2016
ESL Idioms

Idioms are a challenge for ESL students, but teaching them can be a cinch for you. Here are 5 fun games to help teach ESL idioms.


1. ESL Idioms “Pictionary”


Using EFL Sensei’s list of idioms, choose a sample for your class and write each idiom on a separate note card. Divide your class into teams and explain the rules: when it is their turn, each team will choose a card and work together to draw the phrase—literally—on the board while the other teams try to guess the phrase.


If they guess correctly (within a given time frame), they earn a point. If teams don’t guess the answer, it will be revealed. After each round, all teams will be given the chance to earn “bonus” points by sharing what they think the idiom means. This is a great exercise for intermediate adult ESL learners.


2. Idiom Skit


Using the ESL idioms worksheets as a reference, have students pair up and choose an idiom. Their task is to create a skit that demonstrates their understanding of the idiom and American culture. Give students a time limit for preparation and presentation. Walk around to clarify and discuss afterward.


3. Idiom Bingo


Using a traditional Bingo grid (or a Bingo card generator), write idioms for students. Hand each student a Bingo card. Tell students that they need to walk around the room to find someone who knows what a particular idiom means. When they find someone, they will write that person’s name in the box that contains the idiom.


Students will continue this activity until someone has a Bingo. Then, have students whose names are in the boxes share what they know. Assigning one of the ESL idioms worksheets as homework can reinforce the lesson.


4. Idiom Treasure Hunt


Using index cards, prepare separate cards for idioms and their respective definitions. Shuffle the cards and place them around the room for students to find. The task is for the students to work together to match the idioms with their definitions.


When all the cards have been matched, discuss the meanings. If you are short on time, distribute to students’ desks and have them find the match in the room.


5. Idiom Quiz Show


If most of your students have smartphones and you have a reliable Internet connection, you may want to shake things up a bit and use Kahoot! Before class, type in the idioms of your choice with definitions from EFL Sensei’s list of idioms.


When you get to class, login to Kahoot! and choose your quiz. Ask students to take out their phones and follow the instructions on the screen. Expect to hear groans, howls and laughter as students watch the high scores and find out what the idioms mean.


These are just 5 ways you can help students learn those pesky English idioms while having fun. If you use some of these activities in your class, let us know. We’d also be interested in hearing how you teach idioms to your students.

Erin Elgin

Erin Elgin

With over 10 years of experience in the classroom and a passion for brain-based learning, Erin Elgin loves helping ELL students and teachers.