Teaching Idioms: 6 Fun Activities Your Students Will Absolutely Love

Inside: 6 Activities for teaching idioms in an elementary classroom

Have you ever told your students to get on the ball only to have them look at you like you’re crazy?

Or maybe you have asked a student if they are feeling under the weather. They look at you confused and say, “No, I’m not feeling well.”

Some students have had lots of exposure to idioms. They will even be silly about it by “giving” you their eyes as you try to get the students’ attention.

However, many students have not had exposure to idioms in their reading or in daily oral language.

I’m excited to share six creative, interactive ways to teach idioms. These activities explain what idioms are and introduce a variety of examples. Get ready to engage your students and watch them use idioms in their daily language before you know it.

Don’t Ignore Idioms

Teaching idioms can lead to improved comprehension and better word choice in writing. Idioms are included in the Common Core language standards for fourth and fifth grade. Idiom activities are also great for younger students who are ready to take on more challenging tasks.

Bonus: At the end of this post, you will find free Idiom Story Cards that work great for small groups in any grade!

But idioms can be tricky to teach.

  • Idioms are abstract. The literal meaning can have nothing to do with the actual meaning.
  • It can be difficult to assess understanding.
  • Some students have limited exposure.
  • Students can get hung up on what they think idioms should mean.

These challenges can make you want to ignore the benefits of teaching idioms. However, the benefits of teaching idioms are worth overcoming the hurdles.

  • Idiom activities enhance vocabulary.
  • By improving oral language skills, students have an easier time learning to read.
  • Figurative language activities can encourage creativity.
  • Idiom activities encourage critical thinking by thinking beyond the literal meaning.
  • Teaching idioms allow for lots of fun activities including drawing, acting, jokes, and games.
A girl who is confused about idioms
Put an end to Idiom Confusion! Photo by Asier.

1. What Are Idioms?

Students need to understand what idioms are before they can interpret them.

I like to refer to idioms as a secret code using an unusual set of words to explain what you mean.

There are some things to remember when you introduce idioms to your students.

  • Use visual aides like photos or drawings to bring the idioms to life.
  • Make sure the idioms you choose are relatable.
  • Incorporate activities that use context clues to determine meaning.
  • Use idioms in class that you have taught for repetition and review.
  • Keep your lessons interactive for engagement.

Tip: Try using a Google Slides or PowerPoint presentation as a way to frontload a small group (or the whole class).

A slide from a presentation for teaching idioms
Check out all the Slides on this presentation by clicking here.

2. Use Great Mentor Texts

Mentor texts are one of my favorite ways of teaching figurative language. You’ll hear students laugh out loud with these two!

Why the Banana Split

Mentor text for teaching idioms

Everyone is leaving town as quickly as possible when Rex the dinosaur enters the picture. The bananas split, the jackhammers hit the road. The boots took a hike. And… Well, you get the picture. Who knew there were so many idioms about leaving town?

Your students will love the humor in this book. Before long, you’ll hear them using some of these idioms as they leave for the day.

More Parts

Teach idioms using body parts

The boy in this book mistakes idioms about his body by interpreting them literally. The context will help explain the figurative meaning of idioms like “hold your tongue”. However, the boy’s thoughts and the illustration show that he thinks he has to hold the “slimy, jiggly, squishy, slippery little squirt”.

Try it: Have your students act out some of the idioms in this book. They’ll have a blast!

3. Teaching Idioms Through Games

Try gamifying your idiom activities to add some fun. It’s always great to respond to the question, “Are we doing something fun today?” with a solid “Yes!”

Great Games to try:

  1. Make a Memory Game with idioms and their meanings
  2. Write six idioms. Students roll a dice and explain the meaning of the given metaphor.
  3. Lay cards with idioms on a table. share a situation. Your students have to find the idioms that matches the situation.
  4. Play charades or Pictionary and have students guess the idiom. They could act/draw the real or literal meaning.
  5. Try some ready-made games to make your life easier!
Idiom activities with games
Check out these games and more here.

4. Add Variety

The more exposure students have to different idioms, the more likely they are to solidify their understanding.

Looking for some easy ways to integrate idiom practice in your classroom?

  • Refer to anchor charts.
  • Point out idioms when you come across them in read alouds.
  • Try “Figurative Language Friday” and discuss a different piece of figurative language each week.
  • Have your students draw both the literal and figurative meaning to a variety of idioms.
  • Give half your class a card with a idiom and the other half the definitions. Students have to find their match.
  • Students can jot idioms from their independent reading in a notebook.
  • You can create an interactive poster in your room for students to record share figurative language they find in their reading.

Your students will also benefit from more formal idiom practice.

Your students can practice with a variety of paper/pencil tasks for

  • Morning Work
  • Homework
  • Partner Work
  • Assessment
  • Independent Work
  • Spiral Review

You can click here for additional idiom practice that includes everything you see below, plus much more!

idiom worksheets
You can see all these activities and more by clicking here.

5. Increase Engagement with Digital Activities

Digital activities make a great option! During independent work time, I often assign activities through Google Classroom. This allows me to easily meet the needs of all my students.

Digital Idiom Activities
Check out all the digital Idiom Activities here.

6. Build Personal Connections

Students understand idioms best when they are in stories with relatable context.

This is why I created Idiom Story Cards. Students of all ages will benefit from using their inferencing skills to determine the meaning of these idioms.

And best of all, they are FREE!

What’s included?

  • 24 story cards with idioms in the context of relatable stories
  • Print-friendly version of the story cards
  • Suggestions that your whole class will enjoy

After practicing idioms, you’ll find your students recognizing and using them. The next time you say, “Get on the ball!” You better believe your students will know exactly what your mean.

If you have a favorite idiom activity, please leave it in the comments.

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Teaching blogger for elementary teachers

Mary Wingert, licensed educator (K-12 Special Ed. & 1-8 General Ed)

I started teaching in 1993.   I have taught special education, fifth grade, and fourth grade.  I moved to second grade in 2015, and I am still there today.  

I believe in teaching strategies that are effective, differentiated, and engaging. I am looking forward to building a community of teachers who feels the same!  Read more here.