Image challenge - How to teach IDIOMS using picture?

Image challenge - Week three


to kill two birds with one stone

I'm so happy that more and more teachers join our IMAGE CHALLENGE. I'm still wating for more feedback from you. How do YOU use images in the classroom? What are YOUR methods?

This week, I want to present you a great way to teach idioms. We all want our students to sound more English and be able to use colloquial language. However, most exercises in the coursebook connected with idioms are usually gap filling or matching type. Students need more visual aspect of it. 

Colorful language and powerful imagery make idioms a lot of fun for all ESL learners. So how to teach them in a more creative way? Well, here is what I do.

Show your artistic talent

Teaching idioms can be engaging only if it's enjoyable for your students. I ususally tell them that there is a competition for the best picture of an idiom. Students must humorously illustrate the literal meaning. It makes students laugh but also helps them to understand or guess what a phrase mean. It's usually done at home. 

Imagine that you have FCE or CAE students, for example. They are usually 16-19 years old and we hardly ever do arts and crafts with them. It's simply not this age. But I try to encourage them to use their imagination rather than artistic talent to present idioms. 

You won't believe it but it works very effectively. Some ideas are even shocking. It's always up to them which idiom out of, let's say 10 covered during one lesson, they are going to prepare. Sometimes, it happens that 3 people in the group draw the same one but in a very different way. Sometimes they are very similar. For example, the idiom on the top: to kill two birds with one stone will probably be presented in a very similar way. But what about, let's say, to take sth with a pinch of salt? Below there is the picture of one of my students. In this small pocket there was real salt! It's not only vision that is stimulated but other senses, as well.

to take sth with a pinch of salt

to foot the bill

to smell a rat

Mime it - show it!

Next, I collect their drawings and show them one by one to guess what idiom it is and what it means. It's a kind of revision at the same time. Later, they draw lots and have to present it to the rest of the group without using the sound. There is so much laughter each time we do it:))

Role plays with idioms in context

It’s important to not only teach the meaning of idioms, but to also teach how to use them correctly and effectively. Now students work in pairs and draw a picture with an idiom and they are given 5 minutes to create a short dialogue with the use of the idiom in context. It's important to remind them that idioms are informal and are often used in everyday conversations.

Hang up in the class and teach others!

Finally, after the lesson I put some of them on the board in the class and every time advanced groups have idioms, other groups learn as well, as they are extremely curious what it shows and what it means. IMAGES attract attention. Even some of my 10 year olds learned advanced idioms this way.


What if you have not time at all and you want to find great photos of idioms? There are plenty of them in the Internet but I would like to recommend you a special one. There is one great website with unusual, original and outstanding photos. Just check yourself!!! Example below.

a storm in a tea cup

Website address:

And if you are bored with still images, you can use moving images and play a short film full of fantastic pictures and examples that your students will remember for sure. The example of vegetable idioms below:

Youtube :

Finally, the website which lists all idioms on one website together with their meanings:

Website address:

I hope you enjoyed it and you will find it useful in your classroom. Comment - share - enjoy:)