Planning to teach: Idioms

Matt Done presents an idea for a lesson plan for teaching idioms.

Here's a walkthrough for a lesson I've tried several times and tends to work quite well.  It aims to present and practice some idiomatic expressions of time in an enjoyable and communicative way, and is suitable for a strong B1 and above.  Feel free to use this lesson, and to adapt or improve it however you like.  A big thank you goes to Alan Marsh for his help with this.

Lead-in: Find someone who

Demonstrate the activity (shown below) by writing one of the sentences up on the board and asking it as a question to different students.  "Olga, do you have a lot of free time? No? Ok, hmmm, Carlo, do you have a lot of free time?" When one of the students says yes, write their name in the gap and then ask a follow-up question.

Give the handout to students and give them a few moments to check that they understand everything.  If there are no questions, give students five to ten minutes to mingle and ask questions, aiming to find a name for every sentence.  They should also ask a follow-up question everytime they find someone who says "yes".

Bring the activity to a close and then take some feedback by asking the students if they learned anything interesting about each other.

Language presentation

Choose another one of the sentences and write it on the board, being sure to underline the same part of the sentence that is underlined on the sheet.  Draw the students' attention to the underlined part, and challenge them to come up with another way of saying it.
    ... likes to get a little drunk, but not too often

In the above example, students are likely to offer up 'rarely' or 'seldom'.  Accept these, but then challenge students to use an expression instead.  If need be, help them by providing the following:
   ... likes to get a little drunk f____ t____ t__ t____.

If the students are unable to come up with anything, provide them with the missing expression 'from time to time' (students very often go "aaah, yes" at this point!)

Put the students into pairs, and give them a few minutes to look at the underlined parts and think of different ways of expressing them.  This is a good challenge for students, and also creates a hunger for the new language.

Find somehone who...                                                                                                                  Name

1.  ... has a lot of free time                                                                                                  ___________________

2.  ... has to rush in the morning because they don't have a lot of time                                   ___________________

3.  ... likes to get ready slowly and n a relaxed way before the go out                                    

4.  ... has a hobby which needs a lot of time                                                                        

5.  ... has a boss/teacher/parent who makes their life difficult                                               

6.  ... likes to get a little drunk, but not too often                                                                 

7.  ... plays sudoku or does crosswords to pass long, boring hours at the airport                     

8.  ...likes to arrive at work/school before the start time                                                       


Take some of the students' ideas and put any interesting suggestions up on the board.  Then, tell them that you are going to write some good expressions in random order, on the board.  The students must then match the expression to one of the underlined parts of the find someone who.  You can decide yourself whether to get students to do this alone or in pairs.
The expressions are:
to kill (the) time
be pressed for time
take your time
take (up) time
have time to spare
from time to time
give someone a hard time
have time on your hands


Go through the answers together, being sure to keep a record of them on the board so students don't miss anything

Concept checking
I like to concept check these expressions in two ways.  Firstly, by matching some of the expressions to a picture, and then in the traditional way by asking concept-check questions.
I find an enjoyable way to do the matching exercise is to pin the pictures up around the classroom, and get students to walk around in pairs and decide which expression they match.  Once the students have finished, you can check these together and ask some further concept questions using the pictures to help.  Here are some ideas of questions to ask for a few of the expressions:

kill (the) time:
      Where are they?  (on a bus/train)
      Is it a long or short journey? (long)
      Is it fun or a little boring? (a little boring)
      Do they want the time to go by quickly or slowly? (quickly)
      Where/when else do people try and kill the time? (bus station airport, queue, etc)

be pressed for time:
      Does he have a lot of time or very little? (very little)
      Is he feeling relaxed? (no)
      Is he in a hurry? (yes)
      Is it possible that he'll be late? (yes)

to have time on your hands:
      If you have time on your hands, are you very busy? (no)
      Do you have free time?  (yes)
      A little or a lot? (a lot)
      What kind of people have a lot of time on their hands? (retired people, unemployed, etc)

A nice idea is to leave the pictures pinned up around the room for reference in future lessons and also to serve as constant, subconscious 'recycling'.

Controlled practice and pronuciation

Put an idiom in each gap:

1)    Customer:  I'm sorry, we're not ready to order yet.
       Waiter:  That's all right, madam, Just ___________________.

2)    When I was a teenager, my parents used to _____________________ whenever I came home late.

3)    I go out for a run _______________________, but I'd like to go more often.

4)    I have to wait ten hours between flights.  How on earth am I going to __________________?

5)    Learning a language ____________________________, you can't do it in a week!

6)    I can't talk right now - I'm a bit ____________________.  Let's talk later.

7)    We got to the stadium with just five minutes ______________________.

8)    Now that I'm unemployed, I have quite a lot of ______________________.

Give students a handout containing the questions above and do the first one together.  Give them a few minutes to complete the rest by themselves before checking their answers in pairs.  Do a class correction, being sure to keep a record of the answers on the board.

Once the answers have been established, use the sentences to model and drill the pronunciation.  You may wish to highlight to students that the world 'time' tends to be stressed in each of the expressions.

An extra idea, if time is on your side, is to challenge students to remember the expressions.  Put the students in A and B pairs, and get them to spend a minute or two 'testing' each other.  Student A reads out a sentence, but 'blanks out' the expression, which B has to provide and vice versa.

Freer spoken practice

Put students into groups of 3 and give them the questions below.  Give them a minute to look at the questions and check that they understand everything.  The students then choose a few of the questions to discuss in their groups.  While they do this, monitor discreetly taking down notes on the language they use - both correct and incorrect.  This can be presented to the students as feedback in your roundup of the task.

Be sure to take some feedback on the content of the students' discussion too by asking them to report anyting interesting they talked about.

The day after the lesson you may wish to start with a game of 'back to board' or 'hangman' to revise.

1.   On a typical day, are you ever pressed for time?

2.   When shopping do you prefer to buy things as quickly as possible or do you prefer to take your time?

3.   If you're at a train/bus station, airport, in a long queue or on a long journey, what are your favourite ways to kill the

4.   What tasks/activities take up the most time in your life?

5.   Do you like to get to your appointments with time to spare?

6.   When you were a teenager, did you parents give you a hard time if you came home late?

7.   Everyone should do something crazy from time to time.  Do you agree?

8.   Do you think it's good to have a lot of time on your hands?  What are your favourite ways of filling your free time?

For more idioms go to: