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Idioms for idiots!

In my personal opinion, I believe that idioms definitely have their place in the ESL world that is my classroom.


Why do I think they’re good? Well firstly, I think that when teaching English as a foreign language, it can be tough to constantly think up interesting activities. There are millions of idioms and they are good to fill in a bit of time. Not only that but they’re very interesting, and engage a huge chunk of the class without even trying. When I’ve learnt languages in the past and come across a sentence that doesn’t really make sense to me, the first thing I’ll do is ask a native. When I discover that it doesn’t actually mean what it says, and it’s an idiom, I use it as often as I can for about the next week. 

The second reason I like them is because they’re great fun in class. The make students think about what they're learning in a way they'll never find in a book. The must first discover the literal meaning of the sentence, then they must use their imagination to try to guess what it really means. I usually set it up like this:

  • Make a PowerPoint with about 10 idioms.
  • Show the first idiom with a picture of what it literally means.
  • Give them 2 minutes to discuss in groups.
  • Listen to their ideas.
  • Show the real meaning, in the form of a picture or example sentence.
  • Then reward the team that guessed closest. 

I find that this technique works well in class, and is generally pretty easy for me, too! A win all round really! 


So the tough part is finding idioms easy enough to understand but still tough enough so that not everyone gets them. Here are some good ones to try:

  1. To see eye to eye (to agree on something).
  2. Miss the boat (to miss an opportunity).
  3. Kill two birds with one stone (to do two things at one time).
  4. On the ball (to be paying attention/at your best).
  5. Sitting on the fence (can’t choose between two things).
  6. The best of both worlds (getting the best things from two situations).
  7. Cost an arm and a leg (to be very expensive).
  8. Bend over backwards (to try very hard to so something).
  9. Go fly a kite (to tell someone to go away).
  10. Spill the beans (to give away a secret).

These are 10 good ones for TEFL. Always try and stay away from rude idioms, and there obviously will be some new words to be taught during the PowerPoint. 


Make sure to sign up to our free TEFL course, where you can learn more useful tricks and get that all important TEFL certificate! Free to sign up, qualified for life! 


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