Hidden Meanings That Tickle Your Funny Bone
Subject: Language Arts
Introduce students to the concept of figurative language with this activity that helps students see
the “hidden meanings” behind the literal translation of idioms.
• Learn the definition of “idiom”
• Demonstrate their understanding of idiomatic expressions.
• Write creatively about the origins of idiomatic expressions
IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts
Standard 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions,
style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different
Standard 6: Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g.,
spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique,
and discuss print and nonprint texts.
• WordTeasers: Idioms
Write this sentence on the chalkboard: “It’s really raining hard.” Then call on volunteers to come
up with other ways to say the same thing. (The rain is really heavy. We’re having a downpour.)
See if any student suggests: It’s raining cats and dogs. (Or, if not, write that sentence on the
chalkboard.) Discuss with students how they think that expression got started. (Note: You may
want to refer to the “raining cats and dogs” challenge card in the WordTeasers: Idioms game box
for the origin of the expression.)
Tell students that there are many expressions or sayings in English that have “hidden meanings.”
Then say: For example, what if you heard someone say, “Tom has a green thumb.” Would you
think that Tom’s thumb really is green? Why or why not? Does anyone know the “hidden
meaning” for green thumb? (Special talent for growing plants and flowers.) Where do you think
that expression came from? (The green color in plants comes from chlorophyll in the plant.
People who work with plants often get this green pigment on their hands.) Conclude by telling
the class that expressions like “raining cats and dogs” or “green thumb” are called idioms. These
are phrases in English that don’t mean exactly what the individual words might suggest. The
phrases have “hidden meanings.”
Write three idioms on the chalkboard, e.g., climb the walls, hit the hay, eat humble pie. (You
might select your idioms from the WordTeasers: Idioms game box.) Have students suggest other
idioms to add to the list. Discuss the meaning of each idiom with the class. Then challenge the
class to select one of the idioms and write a short paragraph explaining where this expression
came from or how it got started. Have students read their “origin” of the idioms to the class.
Then, read the actual origin for each idiom from the back of the WordTeasers: Idioms challenge
Divide the class into small groups. Give each group of a copy of the worksheet below. Allow
time for students to complete the worksheet. Then call on one student in each group to read one
of the sentences aloud. Do students think the answer is correct? Why or why not?
Directions: Fill in the missing word to these popular idioms.
1. Jack is so clumsy; he’s like a __________ in a china shop.
2. Before a big test, Jose always acts cool as a ________________.
3. Hillary says that her new video game is so bad it’s for the __________.
4. Maria is being very quiet about the birthday party because she doesn’t wan to spill the
5. Shannon says that the test was a piece of _____________. She knows she got an A.
As time permits, tell students they’re going to take the WordTeaser Challenge. Let each student
draw out a WordTeaser challenge card from the game box and read the question or statement to
another student. See if that student can (a) give the meaning of the idiom in the challenge card
and (b) answer the challenge.
For more Teacher Lesson Plans with WordTeasers/WorldTeasers, go to www.wordteasers.com
and click Teacher Resources.
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