Idiom Activity for ESL Students | English Idioms

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Idiom ESL activity

Idioms are one of those things that can be really fun to teach your students, both children as well as adults. Here’s an ESL Idiom activity to help you do it in style! It lends itself well as a warm-up activity before diving into the heart of your lesson.

Keep on reading to learn more about this Idiom Activity for English learners, along with some other idiom activities for English language learners.

Idiom Activity for ESL Students

Age: 10+

Materials Required: Picture/PowerPoint

Student Level: Beginner to Advanced

Time Required: 5-10 Minutes

Skills: Speaking, Writing

This activity for English students is an excellent warm-up activity to get your classes started off in style.

Show students a picture with a literal representation of a common idiom. Give them several minutes to discuss the possible meaning of the idiom in pairs. Finish by giving them the actual meaning and several example sentences to write in their notebooks.

It can often work quite well to have 4 pictures on the PowerPoint so that faster groups can have something to do while waiting for the slower groups.

In particular, kids love this one and it’ll feel kind of like they’re playing with English, when in fact, they’re actually learning.

Of course, remember that it’s most important to understand the meaning so that your students can actually use them again in real life. This point may seem obvious, but it is worth mentioning here.

Procedure for Teaching Idioms to EFL Students:

1. In advance, prepare a PowerPoint image or picture large enough for the class to easily see.

2. Divide students into pairs or small groups and give them 3 minutes to discuss the meaning of the picture. Add a bit more time if you have more than 1 picture.

3. Elicit guesses about what the idiom may mean before telling students the actual meaning.

4. Finish the activity by giving students several example sentences or scenarios using the idiom for them to write in their notebooks.

How to help ESL students learn idioms

Other Activities for Teaching English Idioms

There are a few other things you can do in your ESL classroom to help you students learn English idioms. It’s certainly a good use of time because if students can master idioms, they’ll be pros at speaking and writing in no time! Plus, they’re fun too!

Here are a few of my favourite ideas:

  • Keep a list idioms on a sheet of poster paper in your classroom. Once you run across a new one, add it to the list. Maybe keep it in the hallway at school for other students to be curious about.
  • See who can use the most idioms in your class. During casual conversation or activities, reward students for using an idiom correctly. Have a prize for the highest total at the end of the month.
  • Randomly choose an idiom of the day that you’ve discussed in class. Students have to make a little dialogue with it (pairs or small groups works well) as a warm-up or filler activity.
  • Matching worksheets. Have idioms and then the literal meetings on a worksheet. Students have to match them up. Or, cut them out and place them face down. Then, have students play a memory game with them.
  • If students encounter a new idiom while reading, have them guess the meaning from the context first instead of just telling them what it means.
  • Make the figurative literal to spice things up in your class a little bit.
  • Have students create a journal where they keep new vocabulary words and phrases to study later. Many idioms will probably naturally fit into them quite easily so give students time in class to do this. This is one of the best ways to learn a language. Plus, it’s basically free!

Like this ESL Warm-Up Activity? 

39 ESL Warm-Ups: For Teenagers and Adults
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39 ESL Warm-Ups: For Teenagers and Adults
  • Jackie Bolen, Jennifer Booker Smith
  • Kindle Edition
  • English

Do you like this ESL warm-up Activity? Then you’re going to love this book: 39 ESL Warm-Ups for Teenagers and Adults. It’s the book you need to help you get your classes started off in style, with an interesting and engaging activity.

It can be pretty difficult to dive right into the heart of the lesson at the beginning of class. After all, some of your student may not have spoken a word of English since your last class that may have been a week ago, or even longer.

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Starting off with a quick warm-up activity can help ease your students back into using English, and will help your students to focus on the really important stuff later.

Warm-Ups are also a great way to review material from previous classes. Sounds like exactly what you need in your lesson plan?

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Another ESL Warm-Up Activity

ESL Idiom Activity: Have your Say!

What do you think about this quick ESL activity that you can use for an ESL warm-up in your classes? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.

Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself find this useful teaching resource.

Check out the other blog articles as well. There are a ton of resources for any English teacher!


Last update on 2019-07-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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One Comment

  1. Nice activity!! Bit like the Uk TV game show ‘Catch Phrase’ so this activity could be nicely extended to include students receiving a phrase/ idiom and drawing it for their team mates to work out. Pictures with the phrase could go up on the wall.

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