Have you been bending over backwards trying to teach your students idioms?  Are they left high and dry when idioms are used in their classrooms?  Well I’m going to take the bull by the horns and knock your socks off with some fabulous activities for working on figurative language in speech therapy!

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What is Figurative Language?

Figurative language is a fun way to make the language we speak and write more exciting.  You can use similes and metaphors to compare or describe things in an unusual way or you can use an idiom to say one thing but mean something else.  Those are the three types of figurative language we will talk about today.

What is a Simile?

A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the word “like” or “as”.  For example, you could say your Grandma is as friendly as a grizzly bear (meaning that she’s not very friendly) or that your socks are as warm as a fireplace (meaning that they are very warm).

How to Teach Similes to Children:

Step One: On a piece of paper, write an adjective in the middle.  On the left side of the paper, write objects that can be described by that adjective.  On the right side of the paper, write objects that are not described by that adjective.  You should have a list like this:

how to teach similes

Step Two: Have the child choose two items from either side of the paper and create a simile for them.  For example, you could use “this blanket is as rough as a kitten”.  You can also do this with a verb in the middle and the word “like” in the simile, such as “you jump like a kangaroo”.

Step Three: Practice using some of the similes that the child created in written or spoken language.  Come up with scenarios or situations where it would be appropriate to use those similes and either role play scenarios or write out paragraphs that include them.

What is a Metaphor?

A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things but instead of using “like” or “as”, you just replace one word with another word.  For example, you might say that your child is a doll, or that your chocolate bar is heaven.

Literature is full of metaphors.  Go through a pleasure-reading book with the child and pick out any metaphors that come up.  Talk with the child about what the literal meaning of the metaphor would mean and ask if he thinks the author meant that.  Then, decide on the figurative meaning that the author was going for.  For example, if the author wrote, “Jason was a pig at dinner”, ask your child if the author meant that he actually turned into a pig.  No, probably not.  Then help the child determine that the author really meant he ate sloppily like a pig would.

What is an Idiom?

An idiom is a type of figurative language that is a phrase that people say that is commonly accepted as having a different meaning that the individual words may lead you to believe.  For example, stating that “it’s raining cats and dogs” does not mean that there are literally cats and dogs falling from the sky.  Instead, it means that it is raining heavily.  Many of the idioms in English have roots back to older ways of saying things.

Idioms are a form of figurative language and are often not well-understood by children with language disorders.  While there is no magical age by which children should understand idioms, it is reasonable to generalize that a 5-year-old knows very few idioms and an adult knows (and uses) a ton.  Children should gradually get better at using idioms and should be able to use quite a few idioms in the middle school years and even more in the high school years.

How to Teach Idioms to Children:

Step One: Have the child read a passage (or read it aloud for him) that contains an idiom.  Ask the child to guess the meaning of the idiom based on the context in which it is given.

Step Two: Have the child come up with a scenario in which that idiom might be used (aside from the example already given).  Role play the scenario and have the child use the idiom.

Step Three: Give the child an assignment to use the idiom at an appropriate time sometime before your next session.  Ask him to write down in a journal when he used it and what the context was.  Review during the next session.

Step Four: During your next session, ask the child to tell you the true meaning of the idiom.  For this, just say the idiom out loud, don’t give it in context.  If the child is unable to tell you the meaning, repeat the steps above.

Step Five: Repeat the steps above with a new idiom.

Passages with Idioms:

Here are a few examples to get you started.  Each passage uses a different idiom and the idiom is written in bold and italic font.  Use these with your students or download the multiple choice idiom worksheets using this button:

Click Here to Download The Free Idioms Worksheets
  1. John was super busy. He was talking on the phone with his office while he stirred the soup that was cooking on the stove and starting to burn.  His son Billy walked up to him and said “Dad, I need help with my homework”.  John replied with “Hang on!
  2. The children walked into the classroom and found their teacher, Ms. Donna waiting for them. All of the chairs were arranged in a circle around Ms. Donna.  As they approached the circle of chairs, Ms. Donna said “Have a seat” and waved her hand toward the chairs.
  3. Batson was clearly having a rough day. The children in her class were running around the classroom and screaming.  There were toys and art supplies everywhere.  Three children were pulling on her clothes and singing as loudly as they could.  Mrs. Batson looked at the children and said “You’re driving me up the wall!
  4. James was a very helpful child. He loved helping his mother and she really needed his help today.  It was his brother’s birthday party so all of their family would be coming to the house in 2 hours.  James helped his mother by cleaning up the play room, sweeping the kitchen, cleaning the bathrooms, and organizing the bookshelves.  James’ mother told him how much she appreciated that he bent over backwards to help her get ready.
  5. When Cody walked into his house he immediately knew that something fishy was going on. All of the lights in the house were off even though he knew his mom and brothers were home.  The house was also incredibly quiet, which was rare since his youngest brother was usually VERY loud.  He could also smell birthday cake.  Suddenly, all of his friends and family jumped out from behind the couch and yelled “Surprise!”
  6. Jacob was in the school talent show. He practiced for weeks to perfect his juggling act.  When the big day came, he got up on stage and juggled 3 flaming sticks and didn’t even miss a single one.  Everyone cheered when he finished.  When he walked off stage, his dad said “Wow, you really knocked my socks off!”
  7. Molly ran into the house and told her mother that she had just seen a huge beanstalk growing from their garden. She told her mother that the beanstalk was so tall that it reached the sky and that she, Molly, had climbed that beanstalk and met a giant!  Molly’s mother looked at her skeptically and said “you’re pulling my leg”.
  8. The kids at the pool were running around and splashing each other with water. They were shooting each other with water guns and jumping from the side of the pool to do cannonballs.  Then, their swim teacher showed up and told them to quit horsing around.  It was time to work.
  9. Julie was planning a surprise party for Tom. Julie was careful not to tell Tom anything that may let him know that they were planning a big surprise.  But, the morning before the party was planned, Tom walked in and said “Hey, are you planning a surprise party for me?”  Julie frowned and said “who let the cat out of the bag?”
  10. The Sanderson family was going on vacation to Disney World. Papa Sanderson wanted to plan out everything that the family would do.  He wanted a schedule of exactly what time they would get up, eat breakfast, and get to the park.  Then, he wanted to put the rides in the order that they would ride them.  However, everyone else in the family wanted to take things a little easier.  Mama Sanderson said, “Why don’t we just play it by ear?”
  11. Larry walked up to a game at the carnival. He watched another child play the game.  The child grabbed a big hammer and swung it and hit a metal circle as hard as he could.  When he did, a metal piece flew up so high that it hit a bell at the top of the game.  The carnival worker saw Larry looking at it and handed him the hammer.  “Give it a shot,” he said.
  12. Gibson handed out the tests to the children. Lucy was very worried that she wouldn’t know the answers.  However, she was happy to find that she knew every answer and finished the test quickly.  When she handed back her test, she said “that was a piece of cake!”
  13. Rebecca’s mom picked her up from school on Tuesday. They were headed to her girl scout meeting.  Rebecca asked her mom “Did you remember to bring my girl scout uniform?”  Rebecca’s mom said “Oh no! It totally slipped my mind!”
  14. Ronald was playing baseball inside his mom’s house. His friend threw him the ball and he hit it with his bat.  The ball went flying across the room and broke his mother’s favorite lamp.  “You’re in hot water now!” his friend said.
  15. Barry was in line for the biggest and fastest ride at the amusement park. It was his first roller coaster ever and he was super excited to go on it.  However, when he got to the front of the line, he saw the roller coaster soar over the edge of the drop and fly downward toward the ground.  He started to get nervous.  When his friends asked him what was wrong, Barry said, “I’m having second thoughts about doing this.”
  16. A group of kids were talking about the star wars movie they had watched last night. They were all talking about their favorite scenes and their favorite characters.  Then, Billy walked up and said “I like hot dogs!”.  One of the other kids said, “Well that was out of the blue.”
  17. Johnny had a problem and needed someone to talk to. He went up to his teacher, Mr. Kool.  Johnny said, “Mr. Kool, I have a problem and I need some help.”  Kool immediately put down what he was doing, turned his body toward Johnny and said “I’m all ears.”
  18. Billy was disappointed with his grade on the math test. He got an “F”.  What bothered him the most though was that his teacher was making him stay after school to work on it.  Billy told his friend Eric why he was upset and Eric said, “Don’t worry man, I’m in the same boat.  I have to stay after, too.”
  19. Jamie really wanted to go to the park but his sister really wanted to go to the pool. Jamie’s mother told them that they would have to agree on one place to go because she wasn’t going to drive them to two different places.  “But Mom,” Jamie said, “We just don’t see eye to eye on where to go!”
  20. June had been working on math problems for what seemed like hours. Her eyes were hurting, her hand was cramping, and she didn’t think her brain could calculate one more equation.  Finally, she looked at her mom and said “Can we just call it a day?”

Answer Key:

  1. Hang on = Wait a moment
  2. Have a seat = Sit down
  3. You’re driving me up the wall = you’re annoying me
  4. Bend over backwards = Do everything you can
  5. Fishy = Weird or Odd
  6. Knocked my socks off = Impressed me very much
  7. Pulling my leg = Kidding me, making a joke
  8. Horsing around = messing around, playing
  9. Let the cat out of the bag = Told the secret or let someone know something they weren’t supposed to know
  10. Play it by ear = Improvise or make it up as you go
  11. Give it a shot = Try to do it
  12. That was a piece of cake = That was easy
  13. Slipped my mind = I forgot
  14. In hot water = In trouble
  15. Having second thoughts = Changed your mind
  16. Out of the blue = Random or unexpected
  17. I’m all ears = I’m listening
  18. In the same boat = In the same situation
  19. Don’t see eye to eye = Don’t agree
  20. Call it a day = Quit doing something for now

Download the Idioms Worksheets

I have created worksheets using these twenty passages and included multiple choice answers for each passage about the true meaning of the idiom.  Click the button below to download:

Click Here to Download The Free Idioms Worksheets

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