EL Support Lesson

Working with Idioms

Figurative language can be difficult, especially for ELs. With the help of context clues and exposure to common idioms, it can be a piece of cake! Use this as a stand-alone lesson or as a pre-lesson for the *Take a Walk with Idioms* lesson.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Take a Walk with Idioms lesson plan.
Grade Subject View aligned standards
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Take a Walk with Idioms lesson plan.

Students will be able to determine the meaning of an idiom using contextual clues.


Students will be able to explain meanings of literal and nonliteral language with declarative sentences using graphic organizers.

(2 minutes)
  • Tell the class that they are going to play a word association game. You will say a word, and they should write down or draw the first word that comes to mind. Say the phrase "peanut butter" and give students time to write a word or sketch a picture. Call on students to share their word association, and explain that the word jelly is often associated with peanut butter.
  • Repeat the game with the words macaroni (cheese), teachers (school), question (answer).
  • Focus on the word question and emphasize that an answer is always expected when a question is asked. When we answer a question, we use a declarative sentence, which is a statement.
  • Explain that today's lesson will be about explaining the meaning of words and phrases using declarative sentences.
(10 minutes)
  • Distribute the Glossary Template to each student and tell them that they will be learning some key terms that will help them during the lesson. Label the right column "Example" and instruct students to do the same on their copy of the worksheet.
  • Introduce the vocabulary words one at a time, starting with declarative sentence. First, display the vocabulary card and read the word and definition aloud. Have students repeat the information aloud. Model filling out the Glossary Template by recording the word, while students do the same on their graphic organizers. Then, write the student-friendly definition that is on the Vocabulary Card. Think aloud about a visual to help remember the definition (a period). Provide an example for the term, and point out that the ending punctuation is a period. For example, "I ate a banana for breakfast." Write the example in the far-right column.
  • Continue introducing words and have the students fill in a row on their Glossary Template for each one with the student-friendly definition, visual, and example.
  • Ask students to pick their favorite example sentence and share it with a partner. Then, call on nonvolunteers to hear example sentences for each vocabulary word.
(10 minutes)
  • Explain that declarative sentences are used when we answer questions. These types of sentences are simply statements, and they end in a period.
  • Post a question on the board that anyone in the class could answer based on their personal experience, and model answering it with a declarative sentence. Point out that the declarative sentence is a statement that answers the question, and it ends in a period.
    • Question: What color shoes are you wearing?
    • Answer: I am wearing brown shoes.
  • Post several other questions, and have partners create declarative sentences together to answer them. Go over answers as a class, and record student examples on the board.
  • Emphasize that questions are often asked to gather information about a topic. When we are confused or seeking understanding, we ask questions. An answer is always formed in a declarative sentence.
(10 minutes)
  • Explain that today, students will look at literal and nonliteral language, and explain the meaning. If someone were to ask, "What does that mean?" the answer would be formed in a declarative sentence.
  • Distribute the Explaining Literal and Nonliteral Language worksheet to each student and display a copy on the document camera. Review the information in the teaching box.
  • Ask a student to read one of the parts of the short dialogue while you read the other in the "Literal" column of the first example. Read the dialogue aloud. Focus on the underlined words, and ask yourself, "What does 'fish out of water' mean?" Show learners how to use context clues to determine the meaning of it, and write an answer with a complete, declarative sentence.
  • Have another student participate in reading aloud the script in the "Nonliteral" column of the first example. Engage the rest of the class in creating a declarative sentence that explains the meaning of the underlined phrase.
  • Pair students to read aloud the two short scripts in the second example (up in the air), and prompt them to answer the questions by creating declarative sentences. Go over the meanings as a class and record an answer on the displayed teacher copy. Prompt learners to make any edits to their answers, if necessary.
  • Scramble the partnerships, and have students work with a new peer to complete the third example (sit tight).


  • Allow learners to draw pictures in the "Example" column of their Glossary Template and on the worksheet in the Discourse Level.
  • Provide a word bank and a sentence frame for student answers in the Sentence Level section.
  • Allow beginning ELs to use bilingual resources to define new words throughout the lesson.


  • Allow advanced ELs to utilize a glossary, thesaurus, and dictionary for help with unfamiliar words.
  • Challenge students to write two examples for each vocabulary word in the Glossary Template.
  • Choose advanced ELs to share their ideas first in group and class discussions. Ask them to add on, rephrase, or clarify what their peers share in class discussion.
  • Have advanced ELs repeat instructions and key vocabulary, summarizing important information for the class.
(5 minutes)
  • Give each student an index card and have them draw a line down the middle. Direct them to label the left side "Literal" and the right side "Nonliteral." Draw the same T-chart on the board.
  • Explain that they will look at two images and explain what they see. Write the phrase "to be broke" on the board, and put a picture that fits the literal and nonliteral meanings in the corresponding sections of the board. For example, use an image of a broken item for the literal meaning. Use an image of a person showing their empty pockets for the nonliteral meaning.
  • Give learners time to write declarative sentences that explain the literal and nonliteral meanings of the phrase.
(3 minutes)
  • Prompt learners to act out the literal and nonliteral meanings of the phrases studied on the worksheet. Model the literal meaning of "fish out of water" (e.g., pretend a pencil is a fish and the desk is water, and hold the pencil above the desk) and the nonliteral meaning (e.g., act nervous and make a facial expression of being uncomfortable with your surroundings).
  • Invite learners to work with small groups to come up with actions that depict the literal and nonliteral meanings of the other two phrases studied (up in the air, sit tight).
  • Allow groups to share their actions, and point out that the literal and nonliteral meanings of the phrases are very different, and it is important for us to use the context clues. The clues will help us know which meaning is correct.

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