Idioms




Idioms are so much a part of our everyday language that students who are native English speakers may not even notice that phrases like break a leg do not make literal sense. An idiom is an expression whose meaning is different from the literal meaning, such as It’s raining cats and dogs. The idiom does not mean cats and dogs are falling from the sky, but rather that it’s raining very hard.

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Students will encounter idioms in their day-to-day life, either in conversation or literature. So K-12 teachers must regularly incorporate idioms into language arts lesson plans to ensure students understand not only these nonliteral figures of speech, but also have experience figuring out their meaning when confronted with unfamiliar idioms.

In addition, language arts teachers must specifically take into account teaching idioms to English Language Learners (ELLs), who typically require explicit instruction and additional practice to understand idioms in context. VocabularySpellingCity offers free ready-made idiom lists for elementary, middle, and high school students. Lists can be paired with interactive learning games and activities and free printable worksheets for idiom practice.

Although idioms are found in all cultures, they may be confusing to ELLs, students who did not have early exposure to English literature or language, and young learners. There are hundreds of idioms. They appear in numerous contexts, from sports to foods, animals to moods. Some idioms can also be classified as metaphors or similes because they compare two objects, for example apple of my eye or as cool as a cucumber.

Idioms are covered throughout K-12 language arts. According to the ELA Common Core Standards in reading language arts, students should be able to distinguish between formal and informal language as early as second grade. Idioms are a prime example of colloquial language that might not be used in formal speech or writing. Students may begin to examine idioms they use in daily speech and can become familiar with more formal ways of conveying the same information.

As students continue to familiarize themselves with idioms, they will also practice distinguishing between literal and nonliteral language. The term "idiom" is introduced in the ELA Common Core standards in fourth grade. However, the concept is commonly tested from third grade through 12th grade. VocabularySpellingCity provides idiom practice through learning games like MatchIt Sentences and WhichWord? Sentences. Studying idioms will help elementary, middle, and high school students learn to recognize popular idioms in conversation and in literature and to explain the meanings of common idioms. To further extend an idiom lesson plan and make learning fun, teachers can assign an idiom costume project. Students can dress up as a smart cookie or a pig that can fly for an idiom parade.

Learn about more types of figurative language: hyperbole, metaphors, personification and similes.

View Common Core State Standards Related to IdiomsClose

Common Core State Standards Related to Idioms

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3.5.a
Distinguish the literal and nonliteral meanings of words and phrases in context (e.g., take steps).

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5.b
Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.5.b
Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.

Other CCSS connections

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.2.3.a
Compare formal and informal uses of English.

Idioms – Animal Examples
  • Hold your horses.
  • Take the bull by the horns.
  • Ants in your pants.
  • Fish out of water.
  • Cat got your tongue.
Idioms – Food Examples
  • Piece of cake.
  • Two peas in pod.
  • Spill the beans.
  • Walking on eggshells.
  • Cream of the crop.
Idioms – Sport Examples
  • The ball’s in your court.
  • Dropped the ball.
  • Go to bat for you.
  • Skating on thin ice.
  • Threw in the towel.
Idioms – Elementary School Examples
  • Don’t cry over spilled milk.
  • A leopard can’t change its spots.
  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
  • It’s raining cats and dogs.
  • A picture paints a thousand words.

 K-5 Idioms Practice Worksheet (WhichWord Sentences)

Idioms – Middle School Examples
  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Who let the cat out of the bag?

 6-8 Idioms Practice Worksheet (Unscramble Sentences)

Idioms – High School Examples
  • Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
  • The ball is in your court.
  • Let sleeping dogs lie.
  • Variety is the spice of life.

 9-12 Idioms Practice Worksheet (MatchIt Sentences)

VocabularySpellingCity.com provides word lists, printables, and interactive games and activities that give students the opportunity to learn, recognize, and explain the meaning of idioms.

Try MatchIt Sentences with the Elementary School Idioms list.