Dialogues are a fun way to engage students in learning English idioms. They enact plausible contexts that enhance learning speed while combining both passive and active participation. Students are allowed to engage their personal creativity while they experience English in use, just as they would every day in English-speaking countries, and become more aware of the nuances of a living language. This inexpensive and social approach is a good bet to leave your students excited and ready to put what they have learned to use.
The Performance Method
Compose a handout that consists of twelve idioms you wish your class to learn. Make sure each idiom is followed a short explanation of its meaning and an example of its usage. Make a copy for each of your students.
Demonstrate the twelve idioms to your students. A example would be the idiom "to catch." Explain its meaning. "To catch" means to ride or board. Follow this with a model of its usage, as in "I will catch the train." Finally, give a sequence of cues by which students can apply the idiom you have given them. A cue would be "I will ride the four-thirty bus." Students would reply, "I will catch the four-thirty bus."
Divide the class into three groups and assign each group four idioms. Allow them ten minutes to write a short dialogue that involves an exchange of their idioms between speakers. Attend to each group as they prepare in case they encounter any difficulties or misunderstandings in usage.
Select an order in which each group will present its dialogue. After each presentation allow a short time for questions or comments on the performance of the idioms; then begin the next group's presentation, until all the dialogues have been performed and discussed. Students may discover similarities between idioms used in their native languages and those found in English. They may also have interesting stories about idioms being misused or misunderstood.
- "American Idioms and Some Phrases Just for Fun"; Edward Swick; 1999
- "English Idioms in Use"; Michael McCarthy; 2002
- This activity can be adjusted to the level of English ability of the students. For newer students, written dialogues might be provided or assigned to be written overnight, giving them more time to prepare.
- Make sure the idioms chosen are ones that are still in common usage. Many idiom lists contain out-of-date expressions that native English speakers themselves may be unfamiliar with.
- Note that dramatic differences exist between idioms used in the United States, England, Ireland, Australian and other English-speaking countries, and that even within a single country idioms vary by region. Select idioms appropriate to the needs and interests of your students.
Marcel Dedalus has been a freelance writer of articles, essays and modernist fictions for more than four years. He studied Japanese and European history at the University of Iowa while participating in various writing workshops. Dedalus holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and has worked in bookshops on the East and West Coast.