I've always taught a lot of idioms in class, and have long been in search
of the best way to teach them. After using several different books, I
have come up with the following basic procedure that can be applied
to any list of idioms.
1. Introduce the idioms. It's great if your book already has a story
or dialogue using them; if not go directly to step 2.
2. Go over the idioms one by one. Ask students if they know rather than
just presenting the definition. Use it in a sentence and see if they
can guess from your context. Be prepared to offer another sample
3. Immediately after doing the definitions, ask each student a question
using one of the idioms. Try to create questions that require the
students to connect the idiom to personal experience. ("When was a
time when you felt ill at ease?") Occasionally, it's really hard to
make a question with an idiom, but try to make questions with as many
as possible. This will immediately let you sense how well the student
understands the idiom. Listening to other students also helps them
prepare to write their own sentences.
4. (optional) Matching exercise, using the idioms in a sentence. If
you are using a book, use the one from the book.
5. Students write their own sentences using the idioms. I didn't think
I had to do this, but again, it's a good way of understanding if they
really understand the idiom.
6. Create the next day's exercises from the student sentences. You
can do grammar correction exercises, where the students look at
sentences that aren't quite right and try to improve them, or you
can base a matching exercise on some of the students' good sentences.
After doing these things, you can review idioms in a variety of ways.
I've started reviewing them in a BINGO format, where they have to
mark off the idioms that match the definitions I read (or mark off
the idiom that would belong in a sentence I read). Other times I have
reviewed them in a Jeapordy game format where one of the categories
Overall, I've found that students won't really learn idioms
unless they have thought about how the idiom relates to their
own experience and interests. So, I highly recommend spending
more time on exercises that involve personalizing the idioms than
following exercises in a book--sometimes these can be rather
These procedures are especially good with the idioms in TOEFL study
books--usually a student needs more practice than what the book can
--Karin Abell, Durham Technical Community College
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