Colloquial English : Body Idioms

This next article in our Language Snippets section looks at another group of English idioms. Like the previous articles in the series, it outlines an activity which you could use as a filler with more advanced classes.

A lot of English idioms are based on parts of the body. Here are some examples :

It cost an arm and a leg : It was very expensive.
They don’t see eye to eye : They don’t agree with each other
She’s got a nose for a bargain : She’s very good at finding ......
I was on my knees by the end of the day : I was very tired

There's no elbow-room : There isn't enough space
We did it by the skin of our teeth : We only just succeeded, we almost failed
He doesn’t have a leg to stand on : There’s no justification for what he did or says
I really put my foot in it : I said something by mistake that I shouldn’t have said
She gave him the cold shoulder : She rejected him; she ignored him.
He’s pulling your leg : He’s pretending something is true when it isn’t, as a joke
The car is on its last legs : It’s old and will soon be unusable
He welcomed us with open arms : He was very pleased to accept our help.
We soon lost heart: We became demotivated

.... and there are many more. Here’s one way you might present these in the classroom with a group of upper intermediate or advanced students.
  • Create a worksheet with a diagram of the human body (or a photo of a person) in the middle. Choose eight or nine idioms you want to teach and type them around it, but with the body words gapped. Make sure the context makes the meaning fairly clear. A line connects each idiom with the relevant part of the body in the diagram. If you think extra clarification is necessary, add the first letter of each word – this will help students distinguish between mouth and teeth, for example.
  • The students read the idioms, look at the diagram and try and work out the missing words. While they work, put a list of the meanings of the idioms on the board. Students then match them, and write the meanings in the spaces under the sentences. They could then highlight the idioms themselves to make them stand out.

What are the pros and cons of teaching idiomatic language like this to our learners? See : 

Further reading 

Gairns and Redman, Working with Words, CUP

(Don't forget that Amazon often have both new and used copies of the books you want at prices much lower than those shown here. Click on the link to check.)

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