English level: A1

Objective: Trying to understand some frequently used idioms in English writing and speaking.


When teaching English abroad, you’ll notice that most students at a high level are quite interested in idioms and would like to know their exact meaning.

You can have a lot of fun translating the idioms word-for-word to the student’s mother tongue before giving them the meaning and use.

Some idioms have equivalents in the students’ mother tongue.

Activity 1

Give the students this list of idioms and have them translate them literally. Then they should try to find the equivalent expression in their mother tongue.

I caught the waiter’s eye.

I’m up to my ears in work.

I couldn’t keep a straight face.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

You ought to let your hair down.

Don’t lose your head!

Try not to lose heart.

I’m pulling your leg.

He’s a pain in the neck.

It was on the tip of my tongue.

Activity 2: Produce

Give the students a few idioms each (2 or 3) and tell them to write a short text (only a few sentences) where each idiom is used.

Have them read their texts aloud. Comment on their sentences, have a lot of fun and correct any misunderstandings.


Activity 3: Another practice activity

Tell the students to rearrange the following idioms to fit the definitions alongside.

She had a bee in her bonnet. had the most
He killed two birds with one stone. was obsessed
She took the bull by the horns was suspicious
He had butterflies in his stomach decided to face the problem
She let the cat out of the bag. was very upset and worried
He used to get my goat. gave away the secret
She had kittens. achieved two aims with one action
He got the lion’s share. annoyed me
She smelled a rat. felt very nervous

Activity 4: Fun exercise

Have the students think of some idioms in their language which can’t be directly be translated into English.