So, I have been working with my students on idioms, because I have realized just how many I use in my everyday speech that they ask me about. It’s a good subject to teach, because it helps with fluency and although it is definitely a more “academic” set of lessons than, say, vocabulary, the kids find them funny and so it doesn’t feel as “serious” to them as, say, a discussion of gerunds.
I chose to focus on animal-based idioms, since I work with mostly 5th and 6th graders, with some 7th or 8th graders on rare occasion. It appeals more to their sensibilities, and since they cover animals several times in their textbooks, I know that they have a good enough vocabulary in that lesson for it to work without me having to teach the vocab that goes along with it.
As for the lesson itself, here’s how I do it:
- First I introduce the concept of idioms. To make it funny, I try to come up with a sentence beforehand that I can say that is as chock-full of idioms as I can. I explain that while to them it may sound like gibberish, to a native speaker, it is completely understandable. I explain their importance in the language, and why they should learn some.
- I go over some animal-based idioms, such as “raining cats and dogs”, “like a bull in a china shop”, “smell a rat”, etc. Don’t do this for too long, or you will lose their attention. I try to do a lot of eliciting at this point, to keep their attention and to give them some agency in what they’re learning, and to show them that they know more than they think they do.
- After that, I write “As _______ as a _____.” up on the board. I go over some common idioms that use this structure. “As stubborn as a mule.”, “As strong as an ox.”, “As fierce as a tiger.”, etc. Give them enough to get the idea, but few enough that again, you don’t lose them or take away too much material from the next step.
- After giving those examples, I write a list of animals on the board. I tell the students to think about the traits of the animals, and come up with their own idioms that use that structure.
- I give them about 10 minutes for this, and encourage them to use their dictionaries (so that there is variety). When they are finished, I say the name of one of the animals in the list, and ask the students what they wrote down, and ask them to use it as a whole phrase.
- If there is time left over, I do the reverse, but verbally, so the students can be more relaxed than they are when I ask them to write. I say the names of traits (fast, wise, spotted, etc) and then ask them to think of animals that could work for the first half of the idiom.
Below the cut are some of the idioms you might use as examples for the “as ___ as a ___” samples, as well as a list of animals that work well for the creative parts of the lesson, and some links to lists of idioms:
as awkward as a cow on roller skates
The little girl was as awkward as a cow on roller skates when she first began riding her bicycle.
as blind as a bat
The man is as blind as a bat and cannot see more than a small distance ahead.
as busy as a beaver
I have been as busy as a beaver all morning trying to finish my work.
as fat as a pig
The woman in the supermarket was as fat as a pig.
as gentle as a lamb
The girl is as gentle as a lamb when she is with her little sister.
as gruff as a bear
Our neighbor is as gruff as a bear when we meet him in the morning.
as hungry as a bear/horse
I was as hungry as a bear when I arrived home from work.
as innocent as a lamb
having no guilt, naive, very innocent
The little girl is as innocent as a lamb and everybody loves her.
as meek as a lamb
quiet, docile, meek
The secretary was as meek as a lamb when she went to ask her boss for a salary increase.
as nervous as a cat
The man was as nervous as a cat when he talked to the woman.
as poor as a church mouse
My cousin is as poor as a church mouse and never has any money to spend.
as quiet as a mouse
very quiet, shy
I was as quiet as a mouse when I left my house early this morning.
as scared as a rabbit
I was as scared as a rabbit when I entered the empty room.
as sick as a dog
My friend was as sick as a dog when he left the restaurant last night.
as sly as a fox
smart and clever
The manager of our apartment is as sly as a fox.
as strong as a horse/lion/ox
The man was as strong as an ox and easily helped us move the sofa.
as stubborn as a mule
My friend is as stubborn as a mule and you can never make her change her mind.
as weak as a kitten
The girl is as weak as a kitten and cannot carry the pile of books.
as wild as a tiger
The little boy was as wild as a tiger when we were trying to look after him.
Animals that work well: