Understanding idiomatic expressions can be one of the biggest challenges for second language learners. There are some common reasons for this difficulty that students and teachers should be aware of:
- Sometimes idioms do not translate clearly in the speaker’s first language.
- Unfamiliar expressions can be challenging to use in real-life situations.
Therefore, it is beneficial for students to practice using the expressions as much as they can in actual discussions.
When in class, or while meeting with a group outside of a traditional learning environment, there are different techniques that students can use to practice idioms so that they become more confident using them.
Practicing Idioms in Group Discussions
One method is to form small discussion groups (or pairs). Students can then ask their classmates several questions containing idioms.
- To start, one student can ask a question to begin the conversation.
- Next, others can respond, expressing their opinions using the idiom.
Continuous repetition in this manner should help solidify understanding of the idiomatic expressions.
Below are several ESL discussion questions for adults to practice containing 50 common English idioms. The questions are categorized alphabetically, based on the first letter of the idiom, from A to D.
ESL Discussion Questions to Practice Idioms
Practice Idioms Starting with A
- When was the last time you had a lot on your plate?
- Who is your favorite sports team’s ace in the hole?
- What is your achilles’ heel?
- Can you describe a time when someone’s actions spoke louder than words?
- Can you describe a time when someone added insult to injury?
- Can you remember a time last week when you were all thumbs?
- Is there anything in particular that costs an arm and a leg that you would like to buy?
- When did you have ants in your pants?
- Can you talk about someone who is the apple of your eye?
- What did you do last week at the drop of a hat?
Practice Idioms Starting with B
- Who was a bad egg in class when you were in elementary school?
- Can you recall a time in your life when you were barking up the wrong tree?
- Who do you know who is often a basket case?
- When was the last time you were guilty of beating a dead horse?
- Who do you know who often beats around the bush a lot?
- Have you ever been in a situation where you bit off more than you could chew?
- Can you describe anyone you know who is a black sheep?
- When would you usually tell someone to break a leg?
- When was the last time you had to burn the midnight oil?
- What sports team won by a landslide recently?
Practice Idioms Starting with C
- Who in your family likes to take the most cat naps?
- What did you buy recently that was as cheap as chips?
- Have you ever chickened out when faced with a difficult task? What happened?
- When do most people usually get cold feet?
- Who is the biggest copy cat that you know?
- Of all of your friends, who is the biggest couch potato?
- Which team is the cream of the crop in the NBA this season?
- Have you ever cried crocodile tears? When and why?
- What is your favorite cup of Joe? How often do you drink it?
- Can you remember the last time you cut the cheese in public? What happened?
Practice Idioms Starting with D
- When did you last try to dig deep to solve a problem?
- What are some things that are dirt cheap but very useful?
- What are some activities that you like to do during the dog days of summer?
- Who is the most down to earth person that you know?
- Can you remember some sporting events that went down to the wire?
- What do women usually wear when they are dressed to kill?
- Can you remember an action movie that showed characters dropping like flies?
- Who in class sometimes drives you crazy?
- What do you think about double dating?
- Who do you know that drinks like a fish?
Practice Idioms Starting with E
- Can you recall a time when you were an eager beaver? What happened?
- In what situation would you egg someone on?
- What topics are like an elephant in the room for most new couples?
- Do you believe that every cloud has a silver lining?
- When was the last time you did a task so well that you could say that you completed everything but the kitchen sink?
- Who eats like a horse in your family?
- When did you last look in every nook and cranny for something that you lost?
- Do you have an easy come, easy go attitude? Why or why not?
- Are you an early bird? What time do you usually wake up?
- What in life is typically easier said than done?
Additional Idiom Practice and ESL Discussion Questions for Adults
Were these example questions to practice idioms helpful for improving your students’ understanding of the expressions?
Please leave a comment below to suggest other helpful tips that you use for learning idioms.
If you would like more examples of idiomatic expressions to practice, have a look at the searchable list of common English idioms and phrases on ESL Expat. On the site, you can also find other fun ESL activities and games to improve students’ other language skills in English.
Also, check out how students can learn idioms and expressions from movies.