An idiom is an expression that is characteristic of a particular language, but that means something different from the literal meaning of the words. For example, the idiom “having the upper hand,” has nothing to do with hands. It means to have the advantage in a situation.

People frequently use idioms because they make speech and writing more colorful and interesting. Here are some commonly used idioms and their meanings.

Sell someone short – underestimate someone.

Sitting pretty – be in a fortunate position.

Hit the ceiling – become very angry.

Pull someone’s leg – fool someone.

Wet blanket – a dull or boring person who spoils the happiness of others.

Keep under one’s hat – keep something a secret.

Get off someone’s back – stop bothering someone.

Shape up or ship out – behave properly or leave.

Make ends meet – pay one’s bills.

Out of the woods – out of danger.

In stitches – laugh very hard.

Spill the beans – reveal a secret.

Tongue in cheek – not serious.

For the birds – uninteresting and meaningless.

Shake a leg – hurry.

There are hundreds, even thousands of idioms that are used in the English language. You may find it helpful to purchase one of the many dictionaries of idioms that are available.

Here is one more idiom.

Give it your best shot – try hard.

Idioms are hard to learn, but give it your best shot.


Integrated Vocabulary, Grammar, and Writing

Prepositions, Phrasal Verbs, Idioms

Using the wrong preposition, or omitting a preposition when one is needed, are two of the most common mistakes that learners of English make. Prepositions are perhaps the most frequently occurring part of speech in the English language. And yet they are often difficult to understand because of their sheer number and subtle, often arbitrary contextual variations. Difficulty with prepositions is further compounded by the fact that they partner with verbs to form another prevalent class of words: phrasal verbs. Very often the meaning normally associated with the preposition is altered or becomes idiomatic when used in this way. There are many thousands of prepositional—or phrasal—verbs used in English and they can be difficult to teach because of their often idiomatic meaning and lack of a systematic, rule-based consistency.

This lesson attempts to provide greater familiarity with, and understanding of, the way phrasal verbs are formed and orients the student’s awareness to the fact that there are many thousands of phrasal verbs in common usage.

Lesson plan:
Prepositions, Phrasal Verbs, Idioms
Missing Prepositions Worksheet #1
Preposition Worksheet #2
Phrasal Verbs Matching Worksheet #3
Prepositional Idioms Worksheet #4

Modal Auxiliary Verbs

The basic approach of the lesson is one of induction, and group discussion plays an important part. Much of language learning is done through osmosis; i.e. absorbing a feeling for usage through what one hears and learns from others. Because modal verbs convey subtle and varying meanings based on context, no absolutes are given in terms of usage and rules. The students will form their own judgment about usage. The point of this lesson is to provide opportunity for discussion, practice, and subjective evaluation.

Instead of following the usual pattern of presenting students with gap exercises centering around just two or three modals, but with a broad variety of contexts, I prefer limiting the context and comparing a wider range of modality, thereby allowing greater focus on the relative degrees of a full range of modality. And so I’m using a situational context about having—or being invited—to take off one’s shoes.

Lesson plan:
Modal Auxiliary Verbs
Modal Obligation Worksheet
Modal Possibility Worksheet

Introduction to Lexical Phrases

Lexical phrases are sequences of words that collocate, are often idiomatic, have a high-frequency of occurrence, and perform specific rhetorical functions that can be applied across multiple disciplines and discourse types. Corpus studies have shown that lexical phrases appear in high frequency in published academic writing, but they appear in very low frequency in L2 student writing, and when they do appear, they are often used inaccurately. The result is that the L2 student writer does not achieve native-like fluency because she does not meet the expectations for usage of lexical phrases apparent in the common practice of published academic writing (Li and Schmitt, 2009). The objective of lesson plan is to stimulate an active awareness and perception of the prevalent usage of lexical phrases.

Modals – English Grammar

1) can

Use Examples
ability to do sth. in the present (substitute form: to be able to) I can speak English.
permission to do sth. in the present (substitute form: to be allowed to) Can I go to the cinema?
request Can you wait a moment, please?
offer I can lend you my car till tomorrow.
suggestion Can we visit Grandma at the weekend?
possibility It can get very hot in Arizona.

2) could

Use Examples
ability to do sth. in the past (substitute form: to be able to) I could speak English.
permission to do sth. in the past (substitute form: to be allowed to) I could go to the cinema.
polite question * Could I go to the cinema, please?
polite request * Could you wait a moment, please?
polite offer * I could lend you my car till tomorrow.
polite suggestion * Could we visit Grandma at the weekend?
possibility * It could get very hot in Montana.

3) may

Use Examples
possibility It may rain today.
permission to do sth. in the present (substitute form: to be allowed to) May I go to the cinema?
polite suggestion May I help you?

4) might

Use Examples
possibility (less possible than may) * It might rain today.
hesitant offer * Might I help you?

5) must

Use Examples
force, necessity I must go to the supermarket today.
possibility You must be tired.
advice, recommendation You must see the new film with Brad Pitt.

6) must not/may not

Use Examples
prohibition You mustn’t work on dad’s computer.
You may not work on dad’s computer.

7) need not

Use Examples
not necessary I needn’t go to the supermarket, we’re going to the restaurant tonight.

8) ought to

Use Examples
advice You ought to drive carefully in bad weather.
obligation You ought to switch off the light when you leave the room.

9) shall

instead of will in the 1st person

Use Examples
suggestion Shall I carry your bag?

10) should

Use Examples
advice You should drive carefully in bad weather.
obligation You should switch off the light when you leave the room.

11) will

Use Examples
wish, request, demand, order (less polite than would) Will you please shut the door?
prediction, assumption I think it will rain on Friday.
promise I will stop smoking.
spontaneous decision Can somebody drive me to the station? – I will.
habits She’s strange, she’ll sit for hours without talking.

12) would

Use Examples
wish, request (more polite than will) Would you shut the door, please?
habits in the past Sometimes he would bring me some flowers.