Lesson plan

Idiom Card Swap

Idioms are not always a piece of cake! Use this fun activity to teach your students the difference between the literal and figurative meanings of common idioms.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

Students will be able to determine the figurative meaning of an idiom using text and visuals as context.

(5 minutes)
  • Show students a short video with examples of idioms (see related media).
(10 minutes)
  • Remind students that an idiom is a phrase with a figurative meaning that is different from its literal meaning. Write the definition on the board.
  • Give students some examples, or refer to examples from the song (i.e., "hit the nail on the head" means "you got the right answer," not literally hitting a nail).
  • Display a piece of chart paper and label it "idioms."
  • Have students generate a list of examples and write them on the chart paper (hint: make sure there are at least 12–15 examples of different idioms).
(15 minutes)
  • Hand out one unlined index card (or piece of blank white paper) to each student.
  • Instruct students to pick an idiom from the generated list and draw a picture showing what it would mean if you interpreted the words literally (i.e., for "I'm feeling blue," they might draw a picture of a blue person). Tell students not to write the actual idiom on the card.
  • Have students pass their illustrated card to a neighbor (i.e., pass to the right). All students should now have a new card.
  • Tell students to look at the drawing on the card they received and think of an idiom that best matches up with the drawing. Then they should write the idiom on the card next to the picture.
  • Instruct students to pass the card a third time, again to a new person (i.e., pass to the right).
  • Tell the students to look at the idiom on the card they received and rewrite the idiom on the back of the card. Then they should draw a picture showing the figurative meaning of the idiom (i.e., for "I'm feeling blue," they might draw a sad person).
  • Give students a few minutes to share their drawings with a small group or invite a few students to share with the class.
  • Collect the cards to use later in the lesson.
(10 minutes)
  • Tell students that they will now practice reading and understanding idioms that are being used in a sentence.
  • Hand out the Idioms in Context worksheet.
  • Instruct students to determine the figurative meaning of each underlined idiom using the context of the sentence as a clue.


  • Review the figurative meaning of several idioms before asking students to participate in the drawing and card swap activity.
  • Read a book with idioms, like Amelia Bedelia Hits the Trail by Herman Parish.


  • Make a connection to another type of figurative speech: puns! Introduce your students to puns that use idioms to give a phrase double meaning (see optional materials).
  • Build on this idiom lesson plan by exploring the origins of common idioms with your students (see related media).
(5 minutes)
  • Choose some cards from the drawing activity to use for assessment.
  • Show students the two sides of a card, the literal meaning and the figurative meaning.
  • Invite the class to raise their hands and vote on which side shows the figurative meaning of the idiom.
  • Repeat with several cards and use student responses to gauge understanding.
(5 minutes)
  • Remind students that when people use an idiom in their writing or speech, they are using it figuratively.
  • Ask students what would happen if they interpreted idioms literally in their everyday lives. Reflect and discuss, using examples of how it would cause confusion (i.e., if someone told me to "hold my horses" and I grabbed a horse, I would cause trouble. When someone uses that idiom, they really mean "be patient and wait.").

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