Saturday, January 26, 2008


Target lessons on idioms are an important part of the curriculum for high level students. Idioms are phrases whose meaning cannot be deduced from the some of its parts, such as "Achilles' heel" or "safe as houses". A knowledge of idiomatic expressions shows a great deal of fluency, so to this end the focus of these Smith’s School of English idiom lessons isn't only to understand the idioms, but for the students to become comfortable using them, and be able to apply them naturally when talking about day to day situations.


Ria said...

I had a lesson with a very high level student whom I used to teach quite regularly. We had a lot to catch up on, and we did this using some new idioms and the vocab and questions from routine 9, particularly focusing on 'nostalgic'.

I gave a few examples of each idiom, and then asked him to give me some examples from his own life. I prefer when the examples aren't simply arbitrary, but do relate to the student's life, because they remember the gist of the idiom much better that way. I learnt when he would like to hang up his hat from dentistry and what he would like to try his hand at next. I told him how I didn't want to miss the boat when it came to travelling while I'm young, and he said he didn't want to miss the boat when it came to business opportunities in his company. We talked about vegging out on Sundays.

I noticed that he had some Osaka university stationary, and I asked him how he acquired it. It turned out he used to go to the Suita campus, which is just down the road from my house, and he used to live near there, too! What a co-incidence! We laughed about shopping in the same supermarket and other landmarks nearby, and how if he still lived there we could swing by one another's houses! Unfortunately he lived there years before I did, so I guess we missed the boat on that one...

Ria said...

Recently I've been taking the opportunity to teach almost all of the regular chatty high level students some idioms, and encouraging them to use them to talk about their lives.

On Saturday evening I taught a very enigmatic student who always has plenty of stories to tell. In contrast with many other students, there is no trick in getting him to speak openly at length. It's sometimes all one can do to slow him down and get him to focus on correct sentence patterns.

Like many high level students he often relies on some key phrases and stories that he has memorised, albeit sometimes incorrectly. For this reason, an idiom lesson is perfect, to both pique his interest and slow the pace down in order to give him an opportunity to correct himself.

Out of the six idioms we worked on in the lesson, "slipped my mind" and "speak your mind" were favourites. At first he was convinced that "slipped my mind" must mean to remember, and when he found out it was actually the opposite, he had a whale of a time telling me all the things that slip his mind on a regular basis.

Tying in with that of course, was "on the tip of my tongue", and my random choice of question covered both of these idioms in exemplary fashion. "What's the capital of Belgium?" I asked him. "Oh, oh, I know, but I've forgotten." He seemed pained by this, as he loves to discuss trivia related to foreign countries. I pointed to the board to remind him and got it straight away and said "It slipped my mind! But I know..." So I asked him "is it on the tip of your tongue?" And he pointed to his tongue and nodded. Maybe a B was forming there? I wrote B on the board, and followed it with a r and a u. "Two more letters please!" He said, promising it would all be found on his tongue. True to his word, he came up with Brussels when Brusse was on the board. I was relieved, too, because I wasn't too sure about the capital of Belgium myself, geography's details often slipping my mind. Phew!

We finished the lesson with "have green fingers", discussing his father's flourishing garden and how we both seem to kill plants ourselves when we're assigned to care for them.

It was a really good lesson because not only did the student welcome these new idioms into his vocabulary, writing down various uses for them, but also it let him polish the knowledge that he already had. For example, in one of his stories about the possibility of 'taking' Malaria in Africa, the change of 'getting' Malaria in Africa makes a big difference.

SJ said...

Idiom lessons are perfect for high level students, especially the ones that have memorized set phrases, because it forces them to make up their own sentences and relate them to personal experiences. That way they understand what it is they're using and why.

What a coincidence to find out that a student used to live by you! I found out that one of the staff lives by me as well and we even ran into each other once!

al bundy said...

This is a great lesson for higher level students. Some students want to talk and even think like native English speakers. So this gives them a good chance to get their feet wet.

I find that idioms tempt students. It helps develop their concentration and comprehension. The students welcome the challenge and want to decipher the idioms. I like seeing their expression of joy when they accomplish this.

You only have a few idioms to work with but you can expand this tip of the iceberg easily. Once the students understand the 7 or 8 idioms they are presented with you can expand their concepts based on the class size and student chemistry. This flexibility allows you to present new similiar idioms so they can learn a whole group instead of just one. Then you can challenge their imagination even further by asking them to give you real life examples or even full storys using the idioms.

This gives you the opportunity to correct their grammar and sentence word order mistakes. The students can develop their fluency effectively by creating storys from their imagination or real life experiences with the new idioms they have learned. By the end of the lesson you find that the students have progressed well. The biggest reward here is that you know the students will bring added confidence to their next lesson.

Ria said...

In this quiet Thursday lesson, idioms were our lesson fodder.

I wrote the idiooms from unit 8 up on the board, and then asked the student if she had seen or heard them before. she said that she'd heard "keep your word" before, and guessed that i meant to keep your promise. We moved through the list of the idioms in this way, and if the guess was incorrect I wrote the meaning on the board so that she could read it herself.

One of the idioms, "have a big head" in Japanese means to have knowledge but no experience, she said. This is interestingly related to the meaning of to have a big ego, as someone who is all talk and no action can often have quite a big head on them!

One of my oft used idioms "to get your head around something" came up in this lesson, and there are plenty of things I admit I can't get my head around, mathematics for example. We talked about such things for a while.

Also, the theory of a base level of happiness that people have came up as we were discussing being "on top of the world".

It's incredibly valuable to have discussions about all sorts of things that pop into one's head - it keeps the lesson and pace unpredictable, and brings up all kinds of phrases and vocabulary.

Idioms are particularly good at inspiring subjects, as so many of them in curriculum refer to set events in our lives, and even deeper to how we feel about the world we live in. For example, "to have a heart of stone" led us into a discussion of our parents (delightfully cheeky), and then onto written communication and emoticons.

A pretty broad range of topics in 45 minutes!