What is an Idiom?
An idiom is a group of words that have a different meaning than what the phrase suggests. Something interesting about idioms is that they occur in every language across the world. History for that area, the culture, the beliefs, etc all play a role in developing idioms for that particular language and region.
Even with strong contextual clues it can be difficult for someone to deduce the meaning of an idiom they do not know. Using idiom activities to teach children is a great way to get them acquainted with the commonly used idiomatic phrases of their language.
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Examples of English idioms are:
“He is cool as a cucumber.”
“That’s a rip-off.”
“I’ll give it a shot.”
“Out of the blue.”
“That was a piece of cake.”
Examples of idioms in other languages:
German- “Only the sausage has two ends.”
Icelandic- “I took him to the bakery.”
Arabic- “Give the bread to the baker.”
French- “Teeth that scratch the floor.”
Italian- “Are your ears lined with ham?”
How to Teach Idioms
Idioms have to be taught individually because there is no tip or trick to being able to understand idioms as a whole. However, it is important to teach when it is beneficial to use idioms and why.
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Figurative language is taught in upper elementary aged children to enhance their writing skills and reading comprehension. One of the best ways to learn figurative language is by reading. As is true of most things in life, practice makes perfect.
There are so many types of figurative language, not just idioms, that are difficult to learn without a lot of exposure. If students do not have a lot of conversation at home or a parent that speaks English, it will be impossible for them to learn without the proper homework and practice.
Even if parents are able and willing to help and converse, we as human beings are creatures of habit, and students will likely be exposed to the same type of language repeatedly without the assistance of books and worksheets from a variety of authors with different voices.
Why We Use Figurative Language
Figurative language helps the writer or speaker to more fully portray their point and gives them a variety of resources to express their thoughts and feelings. When something like an idiom is well understood, it leaves no room for misunderstanding by the reader. It not only builds an accurate picture, but it adds an element of creativity and often humor to enhance the experience.
Because idioms are fun in their very nature, it is easy to make learning about idioms fun. There is no excuse for boring idiom lessons! This link has a variety of idiom activities that are great for teaching younger students.
Idiom Costume Activity
An idea not mentioned at that link is having an idiom dress up day. This is a great way for students to display understanding, express creativity, and interact with other students as costumes are examined and identified.
Idiom Charades Activity
Luckily kids generally have less inhibitions than adults when it comes to playing games like charades. The advantage of this idiom activity is that the student does not necessarily need a solid understanding of what the idiom means in order to play. If, for instance, the idiom they are supposed to act out is “ hold your horses, “ a student can act this out without understanding the literal meaning. The class could pipe in and help with that.
Now you know what idioms are, why we use them, when to use them, how to teach them, and how to make learning them fun. If that isn’t a complete guide to idioms then what is? If you have any additional insight into this fun play on words, comment below.