Number one for English language teachers

General: teaching idioms and collocations

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate, Upper intermediate, Advanced Type: Teaching notes

Break away from predictable coursebook topics! How about basing a whole morning round a single word? These ideas would work for many items.


Break away from predictable coursebook topics! How about basing a whole morning round a single word? The ideas below would work for many items but, for now, let’s use 'green' as an example for lesson activities at Intermediate level or above.

Green lists

  1. Give students five minutes to work in threes and collect the names of twenty things that are typically green.

  2. Explain that you will give 3 points for every good word – but 5 points if the team is the only one to get that particular word.

  3. Check at the end. (You might choose to disallow arguable items, such as 'my mum’s hat').

Green idioms

  1. Before class, use a dictionary to select four to six green idioms e.g. green fingers, give it the green light, he’s very green etc.

  2. Prepare a short story that includes natural use of the idioms e.g. “…and everybody said that she had green fingers.” The context should help students to work out possible meanings.

  3. Tell the class that you are going to tell them the same story three times - but there will be some small differences in the way you tell it (but don’t say what will be different).

  4. Tell the story first time with all the green idioms. Don’t explain them. Allow a little time for students to react to the story but don’t answer questions yet.

  5. Tell the story a second time – but this time, don’t say the green idioms but instead substitute an alternative way of saying the same meaning e.g. “…and everybody said she was naturally good at gardening.” Third time tell it with the idioms again.

  6. Put students into pairs and ask them if they can work out what was different between the stories. Get feedback and use this to check meanings and teach the idioms.

Green collocations

  1. Use a dictionary to find a number of compounds and collocations with green e.g. green salad, green card, greenback, greenhouse, green with envy etc.

  2. In class, write all the non-green words (e.g. salad) on the board. Add one incorrect one e.g. a collocation with red such as herring.

  3. Give students a few minutes to study the board and work out what the missing word is. When they agree on green, give ten minutes to use a dictionary to find out what all the green words / phrases are – and which one is the, er, red herring!

Green quiz

  1. Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to get your students thinking in different and unexpected ways.

  2. Say that you are going to ask them some questions where there is no right answer.

  3. Explain that they shouldn’t discuss answers but write their most imaginative answer.

  4. Dictate the questions and ignore any complaints! At the end put students together to compare and argue:
    • What’s the opposite of green?
    • What smell does green have?
    • When you listen to green what do you hear? 
    • Name something that isn’t green but should be!
    • When do you feel greenest - in the morning, lunchtime or at night?

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Very original .. And I'm sure teenagers will have a lot of fun to go through it . I personally like it.

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  • Great idea which I wouldn't have thought of. Just demonstrates how set in my ways I've become and how important it is to do some proper recycling over our teaching career.

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