On Teaching Idioms by Natalia S.Mikunis, EL teacher, Moscow School 1208

Микунис Н.С.Today our students often need some idiomatic language which can be taught in a number of different ways. Here I share my experience. It unites presenting idioms in a context, a high degree of idiomatic language concentration, and practicing various genres of writing/speaking. Examples are provided below. They can be used in many ways, starting from tests end ending with imitation.

1.The Importance of Teaching Idioms /filled with idioms/

Possible assignment is to spot the idioms/reword it, etc

Essay for teachers.

I have always believed it to be an open secret that nowadays one can never do without idioms in learning a foreign language, especially at advanced levels, like English C1 and C2. In my book, idioms make up part and parcel of a language and add to its unique colouring. They are the plum of plums of a language. So I just take the necessity of learning (and in my case teaching) idioms for granted. But if you want serious arguments for teaching idioms I prefer not to beat about the bush and explain everything in plain English. Hopefully, my ideas will not leave anybody cold and nobody will ever give thumbs down to this activity.

First of all, let us agree that it is a matter of top priority to teach idioms, because using them students demonstrate linguistic competence; they get the hang of language and do not scratch the surface but get to the bottom. They feel the subtlety and nuances of language and learn the ropes of fully expressing themselves. It is a matter of life and death for language learner.

It is a must to fall over oneself and spare no effort in teaching idioms for students to feel at home in a language, be in their element and know the language like the palm of their hand. If teachers and students realize this, they will be on the beam. The communicative role of knowing idioms cannot be overestimated. It is worth exploring every avenue and leaving no stone untouched in mastering a language, moving heaven and earth. This will enable one not merely to keep his/her head above water but hit the jackpot in language usage and make it A1. Otherwise, the danger is to do wool-gathering and be a low man on the totem pole in any activity. The plans and dreams might go to pot, end in smoke and come to nothing in no time. This could be a bitter pill to swallow.

Teaching and learning idioms is an imperative as the process itself helps one to be always on the go and thus develop general academic skills and valuable human qualities. The process is not that easy; it is neither a bed of roses, nor a piece of cake. Sometimes both teachers and learners can see the seamy side of life or be in deep waters. We should not turn a blind eye to this. But still, they should take the bull by the horns and never say die. One ought not to get frustrated or desperate facing difficulties; it is a good idea to do things by hook or by crook, by any means, at all costs! Even if one feels butterflies in the stomach, it is useful to keep a stiff upper lip and keep one’s chin up. Unless one is able to do it, he/she will never be on a roll and have things well in hand. However, if it is crowned with success, they will have something to crow about. They will play their cards right and weather all storms. Therefore, it is highly advisable that one should not get cold feet or lose one’s nerve.

Summing up, it is vital to remember that the importance of teaching idioms – and any activity for that matter – depends on the teacher’s attitude: a sense of success and satisfaction can guarantee positive results. So let me wish my colleagues to be always able to see light in the end of the tunnel and hope for the best I do wish you good luck and keep my fingers crossed for you.

  1. Idioms Pool Topical Approach

Accumulate idioms (more than necessary) for the topic under discussion. Try to teach/learn them. Under the circumstances students will recollect and use 10%.

Examples /with and without explanations/.


an angel of mercy = a person who comes in time to help

to upset the apple cart = to obstruct progress

apple pie order = neat and tidy

to turn a blind eye to = to pretend not to see

to be in the same boat = to share the problems

to rock the boat = to endanger common safety

to strike a blow for = to do smth important to help

at all costs = not to spare effort

to open smb’s eyes to smth = to make smb see or understand

to sit on the fence = remain neutral, unconcerned

have a heart! = show pity and kindness

to make a mess of things = to ruin order

to face the music = to carry full responsibility, to save the situation

as safe as houses = absolutely safe

a matter of life and death = smth of great urgency

while there is life there is hope = don’t despair, you can improve it

to see light in the end of the tunnel = to have hope for the better

to sound alarm bell = to call to urgent action


As right as rain: to feel fine and healthy.

Be a breeze: to be very easy to do.

Be snowed under: to have so much to do that you are having trouble doing it all.

Break the ice: to say or do something to make someone feel relaxed or at ease in a social setting.

Calm before the storm: the quiet, peaceful period before a moment of great activity or mayhem.

Chase rainbows: when someone tries to do something that they will not achieve

Come rain or shine: you can depend on someone to be there no matter what or whatever the weather.

Every cloud has a silver lining: There is always something positive to come out of an unpleasant or difficult situation.

Fair-weather friend: a person who is only your friend during good times or when things are going well for you but disappears when things become difficult or you have problems.

Get wind of: to learn or hear of something that should be a secret.

Have your head in the clouds: to be out of touch of reality. Your ideas may not be sensible or practical.

It never rains but it pours: when things don't just go wrong but very wrong and other bad things happen too.

It's raining cats and dogs: it's raining very hard.

Put on ice: to postpone for another day.

Ray of hope: there is a chance that something positive will happen.

Save for a rainy day: to save for the future when it might suddenly be needed (unexpectedly).

Steal my thunder: when someone takes attention away from someone else.

Storm in a teacup: when someone makes a small problem larger than it really is.

Storm is brewing: indication that something is about to become bad or explode

Take a rain check: decline something now but offer to do it at a later date.

Throw caution to the wind: to go crazy and forget all responsibilities or commitments.

Under the weather: you are not feeling well



turn a blind eye to

come/be of age

make a mess of things

develop/have low/high/adequate self-esteem

face the music

go against the stream

be on edge

call a spade a spade

beat about the bush

say things in plain English

see red

become extreme

cut no ice with smb

smth gets into him

give and take

carry weight

meet smb halfway

be at peace with smb/oneself

be at odds with

find oneself

up in arms

live/do smth by the book

give thumbs down to

kick oneself

get out of hand

take some doing

be a pain in the neck




get down to /work, activities.../ = put one’s hand to the plough = set one’s shoulder to the wheel

put one’s heart into = put one’s back into = be enthusiastic about smth

make a figure = carve a career for oneself = rise in the world; paddle one’s own canoe

fall over oneself = take pains = knock oneself out = try very hard & do one’s best

earn a living = earn one’s bread in the sweat of one’s face

make both ends meet, make a crust, gain one’s daily bread

be/feel at home in... = be/feel in one’s element, know smth like the palm of one’s hand

save face

get to the bottom = not to scratch the surface

suit smb to a T, a bang-up job

get the hang of smth = be competent

play first fiddle (second fiddle to smb)

learn the ropes of smth

be on the beam = be on the right track

take the bull by the horns

go against the stream, go one’s own way, have full cup

keep a stiff upper lip = keep one’s chin up

explore every avenue = leave no stone untouched = move heaven & earth

do smth by hook or by crook = by any means = at all costs

cudgel one’s brain over smth, go with a swing + with a run

start afresh = start from scratch = start anew = turn over a new leaf, strain every nerve, stand    firm

get the plum of plums of life

never say die = hope dies last, call upon the voice of reason


life is not a bed of roses, nor a piece of cake

a bitter pill to swallow,

be in deep waters = between the hammer & the anvil = between the devil & the deep sea = ...the two fires

do woolgathering, be a low man on the totem pole, see the seamy side of life, a vicious circle

get cold feet = lose one’s nerve = lose face = give up =be in/fall into despair = put one’s foot down                                                                                                                                              go to pot = go to the dogs = end in smoke = come to nothing, in no time

get dizzy with success, worship the golden calf


3.Students’ Production



When we heard that Tom would arrive it was in the wind that the time would be exciting. When he arrived, first he studied all garden-plot as if he was looking for something. We just watched him waiting for the decision he would get from that research. Until the evening, he was silent and only his eyes gave out his excitement. In the evening, he invited us to get together in my room and started his story.

“You so lucky to live in such place, and so ignorant not to appreciate it,” – he said. — “Don’t you know about Captain Hook?” We knew, but could not understand the connection between the pirate and our garden. “He sailed through the seas when the great storm covered his ship. They sailed close to the wind…” “Did they weather the storm?”- Jinnee asked. Tom only sobbed.

“That is fine. But what is it to come across with us?”- I asked. “You know pirates saved their treasures for the rainy day. And it is here!”

The next day we took spades and started looking for the treasures. “Are you sure they are in granny’s asters? She would be not a storm in s teacup, if she know we have dug them over,”- we asked. “No doubt she would like treasures better”- he replied. In addition, we threw caution to the wind and start digging. Of course, there were no treasures. And Granny hurled thunderbolts. But we felt ourselves to be true pirates, and just hoped we would weather that storm.



  1. On the Generation Gap

It’s an open secret that nowadays many people do not value relations with their relatives and throw their love and care to the wind saying some offensive things without thinking. They take it for granted that their nearest and dearest will always understand and forgive them.

We may take for example relations between parents and their children. Both sides often hurl thunderbolts because of a storm in a teacup. That is a very complicated problem of generation gap. Both parents and their children very often do not try to understand each other and sail close to the wind risking spoiling the relations.

To weather the storm one should try to imagine himself in the shoes of the “offender” and try to be fair. Very often we forgive other people the same thing that makes us hurl thunderbolts at home. So when the collision in the family is in the wind one should try to calm down and try to come to a compromise without offense. Why not try to save nerves for a rainy day?

Overall, in spite of misunderstanding and quarrels people love their families and maybe love is the cause of those collisions: parents want their children to be the best, children want their parents to be modern and fashionable and so on.

So many people, so many opinions. So, we should not quarrel and argue just because we are different, especially with people who love us and care about us. It is better to stop a storm in a teacup because our nearest and dearest, I mean our families, are the greatest blessing in our life.


  1. On Ecological Issues

Today some people, mainly ecologists pay much attention to ecological problems and it is not by chance. Nowadays we sail close to the wind as thanks to our «efforts» the Earth is not any more as safe as houses and I think it is high time to be afraid that our planet will begin to hurl thunderbolts. I mean all these global issues of human activity in the world those are destruction of natural zones, disappearance of animals, exhaustion of natural resources, the decline of people’s health etc. This list can be endless that is why it is a matter of life and death to sound alarm bell now.

To understand that this fuss about the ecological situation is not a storm in a teacup it is enough to imagine our planet without its creatures, water, soil, air, in a word without LIFE.

Sometimes it seems all these disasters are in the wind. Every day the threats to our environment become clearer and greater in scope. Nowadays we often confront the consequences of global warming: weather is unpredictable and besides we have to endure such climate anomalies as snowy summer or winter without snow. If we sit on the fence when it concerns only nature, we should not at least turn a blind eye to people who suffer physically from frequent changes of weather.

People should understand that rocking the boat and making a mess of things on the Earth they destroy the natural balance. That time will lead to such a situation when humanity will have to weather the storm and to face the music. And who knows if there will be any light in the end of the tunnel or not. That is why we should not throw the predictions of scientists to the wind. At all costs do we need to save all the natural resources we still have for a rainy day, for our children, for future generations. Every man ought to take care of our planet because its destiny depends on everyone.

As it is well known, while there is life, there is hope. The only problem is to save this life.


Wishes with IDIOMS

Keep your head above water = survive

Be on a roll! = enjoy continuous success

Don’t put your feet up too early! = relax

Get your act together! = prepare yourself for action

Keep off the hook! = keep out of trouble

Avoid hot water! = avoid trouble

Be on top of the world! = be happy

Be on cloud nine!

Be always on the go! = be active

Don’t miss the boat! = don’t be too late

Make a killing! = make a big profit quickly

Get off the ground! = start to be successful

Get on board! = get actively involved

Play your cards right! = take the fullest advantage of your chances

Be a bright spark! = a very lively & cheerful person

Have broad shoulders! = be able to accept   responsibility

Let’s keep our fingers crossed! = hope for the best

Let your life be A1! = of the highest quality, very good




Get your act together,

Be always on a roll,

Stay safe and sound forever,

As right as rain in all!


I wish you to be on top of the world

And always to be on the go,

Remain a bright spark, keep getting on board,

Not having a hard row to hoe!


I wish you to carry all before one,

Be as fit as a fiddle, and fine!

I’m sure your life will just be A1,

You’ll be feeling on cloud nine!





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