Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guest Blog Post from Alla Sobirova--Six Strategies to Teach English Idioms and Their Meanings

By Alla Sobirova

In this blogpost, Alla shares strategies to teach English idioms and their meanings.

To make sure that the time spent on the study of idioms was not in vain, do the following:

1.      Elect from 5 to 8 idioms that can simply be grouped.

Most idioms are divided into common categories such as idioms with animals or body parts. Elect 5-8 idioms of any category, for example, time idioms. If you choose more than 10, you will be successful only in your overwhelming students, and they will not keep in mind at least some of the idioms they learned in their class. So, to teach idioms of time, you will find eight idioms in the list (prepare the list of all idioms you want students to know).Before presenting idioms, make sure that students understand that they are commonly used in spoken language, and occasionally in writing, by some of the exceptions (they are extensively used in the Web, blogs, newsletter articles, etc.) but students should realize that makes their style informal).

2.     Teach the idioms in context, never in isolation

Some ESL teachers simply hand out the list of idioms and their definitions or explanations. But in order for students to not only understand them, and learn how to use them, give examples of the idiom in the context of, for example, in the usual discussions where the meaning of idioms is clear. Make a conversation (a dialogue) where the meaning of the idiom is clear.
Ask students to guess the meaning of idiom. Correct if it’s necessary. Ask them to give other examples of that idiom. Then go other conversation with another idiom.

3.     Students write dialogues with idioms themselves.

Remember, the goal is to get students not only understand the idiom but figure out how to use it perfectly. Divide the class into pairs. Each pair of students receives one or two idioms to work. They should write the conversation, and use these idioms in it. Walk around the classroom, to assist students and check it for accuracy.

4.      Students act out their discussions (spontaneous role-plays)

A pair of students acts out their dialogue they had written in front of their classmates. So, they do not only practice using the idioms but they also hear other examples of their classmates, and other ways how these idioms can be included in a dialogue.

5.     Practice with games and activities

You can find matching games, filling the gaps exercises to practice more. There are many ready-to- use idioms worksheets in Internet.

6.     The introduction of real-life, authentic material

Show students how some of these idioms are used in  media, newspaper and magazine articles, songs, cartoons, videos, marketing ads, etc ... Thanks to Web, all you need to do is Google the idiom, and you'll find a lot of sources!
Just remember to keep it real. Your students should know that there are real people out there that are actually talking like this. Pretty soon, they may feel ready to start using some of their own.

How do you teach English idioms? Please share your strategies with us. 

Alla Sobirova started to teach English on-line after she delivered her baby in 2009 and could not teach English in traditional face-to-face  way. It was a new field for her and she had to read and learn a lot in order to organize oral practice lessons that helped her students.

You can find some examples of my work at

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