Idiom Exercises for ESL Students


Idioms are words or phrases with non-literal meanings, such as "kick the bucket" or "tell on someone." According to the Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms, learning and using idiomatic expressions is one of the greatest challenges for students in English as a second language or ESL courses. Include idiom exercises in your English classes to help students grasp the peculiarities of the English language.


  • Creating and assigning idiom-based worksheets are an easy way to give students regular practice with idioms. Worksheets can contain sentences with blanks that the student has to fill in by selecting from a list of idioms. Alternately, students can match idioms with corresponding pictures that depict the meaning of the idiom.


  • Most English texts contain idioms. Have students record all idioms they encounter in novels, books, newspaper articles, song lyrics and on the Internet in a notebook. Provide idiom dictionaries or have students search the Internet for the meaning of these idioms. Writing them in their own sentences will help reinforce the meaning of the idioms for students.


  • Have students include idioms in daily writing exercises such as journals, essays, reports and letters. Keep a list of idioms the students are learning on the board for easy reference for students when they are writing.

Crossword Puzzles

  • Crossword puzzles in newspapers and crossword books contain many frequently used idioms. Custom-crossword puzzles are easy to make yourself with free online crossword-puzzle makers. Making your own allows you to include idioms students learn in class.


  • An effective way to reinforce idiom learning is to put idioms on one side of index cards and the definitions on the other. The teacher shows one side of the flashcard and the students guess the contents of the other side.


  • Photo Credit students image by Ivanna Buldakova from
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