What is an idiom?
An idiom is a play on words. Something neat about idioms is that they occur in every language across the world. Culture typically plays a big role in the origination of the idioms. This can get complicated when someone is learning a language and the words can only be taken literally. Idioms are not meant to be taken literally, but it is difficult or impossible to interpret idioms without simply teaching what each one means or getting really good context clues.
A few examples of English idioms are:
“She has cold feet.”
“Don’t beat around the bush.”
“Once in a blue moon.”
“The straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“I can’t wrap my head around it.”
“We are in the same boat.”
Examples of idioms in other languages:
German- “Tie a bear to someone.”
French- “I have other cats to whip.”
Polish- “mustard after lunch”
Italian- “Not all donuts come with a hole.”
Japanese- “dumplings instead of flowers”
Idioms are often difficult for children to understand. The actual definition of an idiom according to google and the oxford dictionary is a “group of words having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.” Kids' minds work very simply and literally especially when their vocabulary is still young and developing. So, teaching this particular concept to children can be a challenge. When someone is learning a new they are also like a child with their simple vocabulary. These same teaching activities can be used for those studying a different language.
Why Teaching Idioms is Important
It is important to teach idioms so that they can be properly used and understood in conversation, but that isn’t the only reason. Idioms help add voice and creativity to writing. Not to mention it is fun to see personalities evolve as vocabulary and life experiences develop.
Idioms in their nature are fun and kind of silly. It should be easy to make an idiom learning activity fun and engaging. Here are just a few ideas to try. To find more ideas from a retired elementary teacher click here.
Whenever there is an opportunity for kids to incorporate art into another activity it is usually very well liked and it will increase the chances of them remembering what they learned from the use of multiple senses.
This activity is exactly what you would expect. Have the student choose one idiom. Write it at the top of a blank piece of paper. Below the phrase, have the child draw a literal representation of what that phrase would look like. Then, at the bottom have the child write the interpretation of the idiom.
Create Your Own Idiom-
All idioms had a start in someone’s brain at some point or another. Allowing the opportunity to make up their own idiom will solidify whether or not they understand what an idiom is and what the purpose is as well as how to use it.
Don’t be too strict with this grading criteria. This is mostly a creative activity to get the wheels turning. After all, idioms aren’t supposed to make sense. It could never actually rain cats and dogs… well, hopefully! The important part is having them try to explain why they chose what they did.
As mentioned earlier, this one is especially great for those learning a new language and will also help children learn some common idioms.
All you will need is a two-column list printed for each student. Have them draw a line or number/alphabetize the options so that they can match which idiom goes with which correct explanation. It might be a good idea if you are doing an idiom unit to do this at the beginning before teaching just to see how many phrases the students know already. Have them do it again at the end, and they will ace it!