Easy as Pie – Jane’s Thesis for ESL Class

Thematic Unit by Jane Barthelemy. ITA International TEFL Academy Online Class of 4/9/2018.

This is a lesson plan for three English classes of 60 minutes each. My students are 12th graders in Bhutan at an advanced level of English. There are 12 students in the class. They are in their final month of private high school, having studied all subjects in the Queen’s English for 12 years. These students are bright, quick, and fluent in English. In fact, they speak more correctly than most native speakers. Many of them will be going on to upper level high-tech positions, to colleges and universities in America, or into Bhutan’s exclusive tourism industry.

Role of Lessons in Relation to Previous and Subsequent Lessons:
For this lesson I have chosen some of the most commonly used expressions including idioms, slang, and contractions. This is a very important step in their training. It is critical for them to understand everyday conversation before graduation. After graduating they will find themselves in new professional circumstances, probably with Americans.

Two weeks ago, we did a comprehensive review of grammar and specific techniques for taking the Bhutanese government English proficiency exam. Last week the students were visibly exhausted from the exams. We did an easier week of writing stories, building characters, and metaphors. It was a lot of writing and reading. To balance the four skills, this week we will focus more on speaking and listening.

Last Friday they received their scores on the proficiency exams, and once again the school won highest ratings for English in Bhutan. The students might be feeling pretty satisfied with themselves. They’re looking forward to being out of school. They might even feel like they’re wasting their time stuck in class.

The following week is the end of the semester. Monday we will have a brief review of expressions in Day 3 homework movie. Students will begin their final written essay about what they have learned and how it will serve them after graduation. Friday they will submit their essays and read them aloud to the class. The following week will be final graduation ceremonies with parents and family.

My objective with this lesson is to challenge them, to show them a different perspective on the English language, and to have fun. Since there is a lot of material, I will give them two choices: 1) An easy week of one conversation and a few idioms, or 2) a fast-moving comprehensive week of three conversations and many idioms. I’m pretty sure they’ll choose the latter, and I would like them to feel empowered to tackle this exciting new realm. My language goals are to raise their overall comprehension of American conversational English. I would like for them to have passing knowledge of many informal expressions, so they can function in the real world. I would also like for them to be quite familiar with a few of the expressions, which they will be able to choose and practice speaking in a conversation. I would like it to be an enjoyable week, giving the students a chance to have fun, because the past month has been quite stressful.

Soon the students will be in graduation ceremonies with parents and family.

Students are completely fluent in English. They are already familiar with many of these idiomatic expressions through the media, however informal spoken English has never been addressed in school. The students have studied metaphors.

Anticipated Problems:
This is a lot of material in a short time. Is it too much? I don’t think so. These students are bright, well-traveled and familiar with informal English through social media, YouTube, and movies. Some students may have a more difficult time absorbing the many metaphors and meanings. To resolve that, I’m giving them a choice between two alternatives of study. I expect they’ll choose the comprehensive alternative, in which case they’ll be exposed to a wide variety of expressions. I will ask them to choose just a few of their favorite expressions to perform on the last day. They will not be required to memorize all the expressions, but to speak a few. Some students may not have access to computer or internet for homework, so that will be made available in a school study hall. The flash cards need to be returned to their bags and kept separate by idioms, gestures, and contractions, or we will have confusion.

Instructions for Substitute Teacher:

  1. Use the big screen TV and connect it to your laptop as you’ve done many times. Scroll through this file. It will walk you through the content step by step.
  2. Before class get out materials, costume, and handouts listed above under Materials. They’re ready in my big desk drawer.
  3. Follow the class plan in order, keeping to the times indicated.
  4. Be sure to lead the discussion for Warm-up, Presentation, and Review. Explain the homework carefully. For Production please observe and allow the students to work by themselves, using you only as a resource.
  5. Have fun!

Day 1: Idioms

Day 2: Idioms and Hand Gestures


Day 3: Idioms, Hand Gestures, and Contractions

Day 1 – Idioms

1. Day 1 Warm-up:

Teacher comes into class dressed for a trek in Bhutan.

Day 1 – Teacher arrives with backpack, walking sticks, and camera.

So you’re having a snack in a popular cafe in Thimphu, Bhutan. You can overhear Americans talking. Someone says there’s an elephant in the room. Another has a skeleton in the closet. Someone is hitting books. And it sounds like someone’s been stabbed in the back. What’s going on? You can translate the words, but you scratch your head and feel lost. What’s going on? You’ve just had your first introduction to English idioms.

American’s are not reserved in their conversations with friends. They often express themselves with colorful idioms and metaphors. They use many informal spoken expressions with friends and sometimes in social media. These common expressions are not used in academic classes, or in books. You will not be tested on them in the national exams, however you will need to understand them to communicate with your American friends.

Last week we studied metaphors. This week we’ll be studying idioms, which are a strange world of everyday spoken metaphors. Are you ready to hear real spoken English? This will be a fast-moving class, so please pay attention.

You’re lucky to live in the most beautiful part of the world. Over 60% of tourists in Bhutan are Americans. They like to relax, let their hair down, and speak fast. Will you understand?

American English among friends is fast and different from written English. If you can’t understand a conversation, you’ll be totally in the dark.

You’re a whiz in school. Studying is a piece of cake for you. But when you talk with new friends after class, everything will be Greek to you. 

When trekking or camping with Americans, you’ll be together 24/7. It’s an opportunity to make life-long friendships. You’ll want to put your best foot forward. But what if you can’t figure out what they’re saying?

Day 1 Introduction

Idiomatic expressions often contain words that don’t make sense together. Idioms are metaphors that reveal our history and our sense of humor. I’ve chosen a small fraction of American idioms to give you an introduction. These can be used in mixed company and are not sexual in nature. They can help you understand how Americans think, which is a root of why we behave as we do. This understanding will be invaluable in your future.

Warning: By learning idioms you are taking a step away from correct British English. While it is essential for you to understand these expressions, please take care before you speak them. If your delivery is awkward, or not in the expected context, you could lose face in a conversation. First be sure understand them. Begin to speak them only after you are comfortable.

Confessions of an Idiom – List of Expressions

  1. Elephant in the room – A big issue everyone is aware of, is being ignored, because it is uncomfortable.
  2. Skeleton in the Closet – A dark secret about someone that they are hiding to avoid embarrassment.
  3. To pick a bone with sb – To tell someone you want to argue or disagree about something.
  4. To sweep something under the carpet – To hide something dirty or unpleasant.
  5. To have a clean slate – When you wipe a slate clean, you are starting anew. A slate is a writing stone.
  6. To have better fish to fry – You should turn your attention to something more important.
  7. To stick to your guns –To hold firm and refuse to change, despite criticism.
  8. Holy Mackerel! – An exclamation instead of saying Holy Mary’s name disrespectfully. Mackerel is a common fish once sold on Sundays in England, called “holy fish”.
  9. To bounce something off sb – To try or pitch a new idea to someone or a group.
  10. To have your eye on sb – To keep under careful observation.
  11. To call someone’s bluff – To expose their deception or lie. To challenge someone to carry out a threat.
  12. Spill the beans – To reveal a secret.
  13. To fall apart – To fall to pieces – break up, come apart, or disintegrate.
  14. To have no leg to stand on – To have no basis or truth to a statement. It is invalid.
  15. To break sb’s heart -To cause someone to feel great sorrow or sadness.
  16. To kill two birds with one stone – Achieve two aims at once.
  17. To stab in the back – To betrayal someone’s trust, to hurt someone behind their back.
  18. “Confessions are good for the soul, but not much good for anything else”. Means revealing your secrets may help you internally, but externally it may hurt you in society.

Students Choose the Pace of the Week’s Lessons
Today you will have a choice in what you want to study this week. We can focus on one idiomatic conversation in American English, and review that very carefully in all three lessons using various games and exchanges. Or we can do a more comprehensive glance at almost 200 expressions, and play with them. I would like you to just be familiar with them and be able to understand.

If you choose the comprehensive lesson, you will not be expected to memorize all the idioms. Today and Wednesday you will prepare a short conversation with flash cards. On Friday, the third lesson, you’ll choose your favorite expressions and prepare a longer conversation. You will be graded on the correct meaning, understanding, pronunciation, and relaxed delivery of the expressions you choose. Which lesson plan do you choose? Students vote.

OK, so you have chosen the comprehensive lesson. We’re going to have a lot of fun! Here’s a resource list of all the expressions we’ll be using this week. Start thinking about which ones are your favorite. American Idiomatic Expressions pdf

What is an Idiom?
Meriam-Webster: An expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but must be learned as a whole. The expression “give up,” meaning “surrender,” is an idiom.
Dictionary.com: A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., raining cats and dogs, see the light).

What is Slang?
 Language peculiar to a particular group of people, or an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech.
Dictionary.com: A type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.

3. Day 1 Presentation – “Cliffhanger Class” Dialogue

Students listen to teacher read, without text.
Then listen again with text, marking any favorites and any questions.

Cliffhanger Class Audio: (Hopefully teacher will read this out loud)

Day 1 Handout – Audio Text – Cliffhanger Class Conversation

  1. Hey, Andy. How’s it goin’?
  2. Whoa, I’m so bummed out.
  3. Whaddya mean, buddy? Calm down (Calm down). You uptight about something? 
  4. Yeah, This class is a cliffhanger for me. I’m gonna have to pull an all-nighter and cram for the test tomorrow. There’s no choice cuz I’ve gotta get up to speed on this new material. Even worse, the final exam next month is gonna be a killer.
  5. Hey, Lighten up. You know this stuff cold.
  6. Easy for you to say. Cross your fingers (cross fingers) for me, I’m at the end of my rope, hangin’ by the skin of my teeth.
  7. Wait a minute. Hold your horses. You know this stuff like the back of your hand. No need to freak out. Take one step at a time. Don’t even think about the final exam – you’ll cross that bridge when you get to it.
  8. Yeah, but right now I’m so beat I can’t think straight.
  9. Hey cool it. (Time out) You’ve always been a whiz in math and physics. It’s a breeze for you. Don’t go into the test all worn out, you might screw up.
  10. Whaddaya mean?
  11. Here’s what you gotta do. Hit the books for an hour tonight. Then take a break from studying. Call it a day and hit the pillow. Then go into the test tomorrow and give it your all.
  12. Yeah, you’re right.
  13. Remember, it takes a lotta smarts to be a doctor, and you’ve got it all. Smarts and good looks too! Ok gotta go now. Lemme know what happens. Lotsa luck and break a leg!
  14. Next Day: Hey Andy, Howja do on the test?
  15. Awesome! High Five! (high five) I did just what you said, and I aced the test. Actually, it was a piece of cake. Nothin’ to it.
  16. No way! That’s totally cool. I had a gut feeling you were gonna make it.
  17. Yep, I decided to stay the course, and finish my degree sooner so I can get a job and earn some dough.
  18. Great! (thumbs up) That’ll be the icing on the cake. All that worrying was for the birds. Just remember, slow and steady wins the race.
  19. You can say that again! OK I’m gonna split now. Gotta go crash and get some Z’s. Thanks a million. (V sign)
  20. (V sign) Sure thing. See ya!


Cross your fingers for me!  I’m hoping for this.

I’m at the end of my rope!

I’m freaking out!  

Tom hit the books and pulled an all-nighter before the exam.

I aced the big test. Then I graduated! Thumbs up!

Day 1 – Handout – List of Idiomatic Expressions:

  1. Bummed, Bummed out – Sad, Depressed
  2. Uptight – Worried, Tense, Upset
  3. Cliffhanger– Very challenging, hanging on the edge of a cliff
  4. To pull an all-nighter – To stay up all night studying
  5. Cram – To study very hard, to shove, push information into the brain.
  6. To get up to speed – After her holiday, it took Kate a few hours to get back up to speed on the recent developments in her company.
  7. Killer – Extremely difficult or challenging. A killer exam.
  8. Lighten up – To get happier.
  9. To know something cold – To know it well, completely
  10. Cross your fingers – To wish for something.
  11. Be at the end of your rope – To be desperate.
  12. Hang by the skin of your teeth – To be very tense, holding on with your teeth afraid of falling.
  13. Hold your horses – Slow down
  14. To know something like the back of your hand – To know it completely.
  15. Freak out – To panic
  16. Cross that bridge when you get to it.– Don’t worry about it now. Wait till you get to it.
  17. To feel beat – To be tired
  18. Whiz – A genius, a very smart person
  19. It’s a breeze for you – It’s easy for you.
  20. Worn out – Tired
  21. Screw up – To make a big mistake
  22. Hit the books – To study
  23. To take a break – To pause
  24. Call it a day – Say good night
  25. Hit the pillow – Fall into bed
  26. Give it your all – To do something wholeheartedly
  27. Smarts – Intelligence
  28. Lotsa Luck – Good luck!
  29. Break a leg – To wish someone luck in a big effort.
  30. Ace a test – To get an A on a test.
  31. Piece of cake – Really easy, like eating a sweet.
  32. Nothin’ to it – It was no effort at all
  33. Cool – Wonderful, Great, Fantastic
  34. No way! – Congratulations and surprise!
  35. A gut feeling – A feeling deep in the gut or belly
  36. Stay the course – To continue on a plan to the end
  37. Dough – Money
  38. Icing on the cake – An extra treat. Paula enjoyed the concert, and getting to meet the artist backstage after the show was the icing on the cake.
  39. For the birds – Useless, An unnecessary waste of time.
  40. Slow and steady wins the race. – Be calm and take one step at a time. Refers to Aesop’s Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.
  41. You can say that again – I agree completely!
  42. Split – To leave, to go away.
  43. Crash – To go to sleep
  44. Get some Z’s – Go to sleep. Zzzzzz refers to snoring in comic books.
  45. Thanks a million – Thanks a lot.
  46. Sure thing – Yes, or You’re welcome

4. Day 1 Practice

You each have 9 random flash cards. I’d like you to get up and mingle around the room. Talk to other people, and practice using your expressions as much as possible. Refer to the list of meanings if necessary. Try to use American pronunciation and attitude. Have fun. You’ll have 10 minutes. Then put your cards back in the bowl in front of the class.

5. Day 1 Production

Find a partner. Each person will receive 9 new random flash cards. I’d like you to plan a conversation that makes sense together with your partner. Make it into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Use at least 6 of your 18 idioms. Write the conversation down in complete sentences, and then practice saying it with authentic pronunciation and attitude. You’ll have 10 minutes. In the following step I’d like you perform your dialogue to the class.

6. Day 1 Review – Perform the dialogues

Now I’d like each pair to come up in front and share your conversations with the class. Please do not read them. Try to perform them with authentic American pronunciation and attitude. You’ll be graded according to the following rubric. The class will choose the best conversations and discuss why they like those expressions.

Rubric for Day 1, Displayed in Front of the Class:

7. Day 1 Homework – Hand Gestures

Instructions to Students: Please view this video. Feel free to use the student study hall has internet and computers. You probably know most of these gestures already. Practice using them. We’ll play a few games with them in the next class.

List of Hand Gestures Handout

  1. Me – point to chest.
  2. You – hand toward you.
  3. Tut tut – Disapproval, Shake index finger, often with clicking sound of tongue at top of mouth.
  4. Here – index finger points to floor.
  5. There – index finger points out there.
  6. Come here whole hand. Hurry up if fast.
  7. Come here you – index finger – receive a surprise
  8. It’s so hot – wave hands beside face.
  9. Thumbs up – good.
  10. Thumbs down- bad.
  11. OK, Perfect! – Index and thumb together.
  12. High Five – Congratulations.
  13. Shhh – Be quiet, index finger in front of lips.
  14. My lips are sealed – index finger and thumb indicate zipper mouth.
  15. Cross fingers behind back – This is a lie, but it’s ok.
  16. V – Peace or Victory.
  17. Cross fingers – Good luck.
  18. Fingers walking – I’m going, Walking, leaving.
  19. Indicate watch – Look at time. It’s late.
  20. Call me – Thumb and index finger indicates phone at ear.
  21. Stop sign or “Wait” whole hand.
  22. Time out – Make a “T” with two hands.
  23. Calm down – Both hand spreading out.
  24. I’m watching you – Two fingers indicate my eyes, then point to you.
  25. I’m bored – Pretend to cover yawn.
  26. Crazy, or He’s crazy – Rotate index finger beside ear.
  27. Hello? Is this real? Both hands stiffly up to sides. Exasperation, frustration.
  28. I dunno. I don’t know – Both hands empty to side, with shoulder shrug.
  29. Cut it out! Stop! Don’t do this!
  30. Blah blah – Fingers open and close. Someone is talking too much, empty words.
  31. Salute – flat hand or two fingers to forehead. Can be respectful or sarcastic depending on context.
  32. “Quotes” – Quotation marks – Indicates the words in quotes may be false or sarcastic.
  33. I love you – Two hands form a heart.
  34. I love you – Place one hand flat on heart.
  35. Bye – wave fingers.
  36. Or casual “bye” folds fingers one at a time.

Day 2 – Idioms and Hand Gestures

1. Day 2 – Warm-up

Good Morning! How did you like the videos of gestures? Hand gestures are a big part of communicating. Americans like to save time by speaking with their hands. A few gestures can say a whole sentence. My favorite is: Shhhh, I dunno, OK, My lips are sealed, It’s late-gotta go, Walking out, Casual bye.

2. Day 2 Introduction – Review Hand Gestures

Part 1. We’re going to play a game to practice speaking with our hands. Please form a circle. Each person please take one of the Gesture Flash Cards and pass them around. Each person will call out their gesture, and everybody will perform the movement.

Part 2. When we finish, raise your hand to make an entire sentence only with hand gestures. The rest of the class will guess what words and meaning you’re trying to say.

3. Day 2 – Presentation – “Blessing in Disguise” Dialogue

Students listen to teacher read, without text.
Then listen again with text, marking any favorites, or any questions.

  1. Hi John, Whatchya doin’ here? You’ supposed to be at work.
  2. Nope, not any more, I just got sacked (cut). They fired me cold turkey. Wanna drink?
  3. Sure. That’s crazy. (Crazy) What happened?
  4. I can’t believe it (I dunno). My co-worker Mike made a mistake on a big project. Someone let the cat out of the bag and the word got around. Then my boss Betty got wind of it. Mike passed the buck, and pointed the finger at me, instead of being man enough to admit it. Betty bought his story hook, line, and sinker. I tried to speak my mind to her, but she wasn’t listening, and we couldn’t see eye to eye. She had made up her mind and gave me my walking papers right then and there. Now I’m down in the dumps, I’ve hit rock bottom. Trouble is I’m busted, totally broke with no change to buy lunch.
  5. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes right now. Watcha gonna do now?
  6. I dunno (I dunno), it’s bad. My heart was set on getting that raise and moving into a new place. I had it totally in the bag, until this happened. Now all my hopes are gone up in smoke. So I’m outta there – I had to clear my desk and leave the office.
  7. (Tut tut) Hold on a minute. Somethin’ smells fishy and I’m not buyin’ it. Betty was delighted to hire you last year, and she went out of her way to give you the job. She twisted a few arms and bent over backwards to bring you in. You worked hard, and she even named you “Employee of the Year”.
  8. Yeah, but after she hired Mike and had me train him, my job felt like a dead end. I showed him the ropes and taught him everything on the computer. He even had my password. After a while I was always playing catch-up for his mistakes, and then he started to turn the tables on me. After that Betty was on my case every day, looking over my shoulder. Today she said she had proof positive that the mistakes (quotes) “had my name all over them” and this was the last straw, you know, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now I’m between a rock and a hard place, and it’s not my fault.
  9. I get the picture. It’s really too bad. But chill out my friend. You could be barking up the wrong tree, and this wasn’t the right job for you anyway. Maybe it’s time for you to look around, and not put all your eggs in one basket.
  10. Yeah, I worked so hard. But now I wonder what’s the point? Mike’s back stabbing has cost me an arm and a leg. Now that I’m gone, the cat’s out of the bag. She’ll see the truth and he’ll hafta face the music.
  11. Alright, you can just walk away. But be careful. Never burn your bridges. Who knows, maybe she’ll ask you to come back.
  12. Ha Ha! Fat chance. Not in a million years! Trouble is, I’m totally in the dark about looking for a new job. There’s so much red tape just to get an interview. To find a job for my particular skills is like finding a needle in a haystack.
  13. No sweat. Just give it a shot. It takes guts to get out on the street and meet new people. Remember, don’t forget to speak up for yourself – it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
  14. Alright, I’m on the case. I’ll start on my resume tonight. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for a job.
  15. OK, I’ll be on the lookout for ya. (Eyes on you) I’ve got my fingers crossed for you (fingers crossed), cuz you’ve got everything it takes to succeed.
  16. One Week Later:
  17. Hi John, I heard through the grapevine you found a job. What happened?
  18. Yeah, I was looking for work all week, but it was so hard. I got cold feet and almost gave up. Then out of the blue my uncle asked me to a potluck dinner party with his industry friends. He kinda spilled the beans to everyone and spread the word that I was looking for a job.
  19. No way! What happened?
  20. His old friend, the CEO of a research company came over and we talked. The next day, he offered me a job. I started on Monday.
  21. You’re pullin’ my leg. What’s the bottom line?
  22. I’m making over 50 grand a year.
  23. Wow, what a score! You just made my day! Thatsa lotta dough. The chances of that are one in a million.
  24. You’re telling me! I never imagined it in my wildest dreams. Something like this happens once in a blue moon. Yep, getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was a real eye-opener. This time I’ve learned my lesson.
  25. What’s that?
  26. Never give up hope.
  27. Yeah, for sure, it was a blessing in disguise. Hey, by the way, now that you’re into the big bucks, could you gimme a few hundred?
  28. What? Are you joking? Ha ha!
  29. Gotcha! Madja laugh!
  30. Hey, kidding aside. I wanna thank you. I was ready to give up. You’re a real friend.
  31. Ditto, anytime.
  32. Love ya. (hand on heart)
  33. Back atcha!
  34. (Fist bump)


Fist bump, better than a handshake?

I just got fired from my job. They gave me my walking papers. I’m so bummed out.

Finger pointing means shifting the blame to someone else.

Red tape means too many detailed rules that make life difficult. 

Can you find a needle in a haystack?

High Five! Congratulations!

The turtle just kept going slow and steady, and he won the race!

Blessing in Disguise Expressions

  1. To get sacked – to be fired from a job
  2. Cold turkey – suddenly and abruptly
  3. To let the cat out of the bag – to reveal a secret
  4. Word gets around – when news spreads
  5. To get wind of something – to hear about something. Once the school principal caught wind of the problem, she called a teachers’ meeting.
  6. To pass the buck – shift the responsibility to someone else. The politician passed the buck onto someone else instead of accepting responsibility for the problem.
  7. Point the finger – Shift the blame to someone else.
  8. To be man enough – to be brave enough to do something: He was man enough to admit he had made a mistake.
  9. To buy a story – To believe it, even if it might not be true.
  10. Hook, line, and sinker – To emphasize that someone has been completely deceived or tricked. He fell for the story hook, line, and sinker.
  11. To speak one’s mind – To express one’s feelings or opinions frankly. Timmy was afraid to speak his mind in front of his schoolmates.
  12. To see eye to eye – have similar views or attitudes to something; be in full agreement. Alan and I don’t always see eye to eye.
  13. Walking papers – Notice of dismissal from a job. The reporter has been given his walking papers.
  14. To be down in the dumps. – In a gloomy or depressed mood: After losing the student election, Jack really felt down in the dumps.
  15. To hit rock bottom – To be in a very distressing place in life; the lowest point that one could go. Joe hit rock bottom after the loss of his mother.
  16. To be busted – To be bankrupt. Could also mean to be arrested.
  17. Broke – to be completely out of money. Many farmers went broke.
  18. To be (or put oneself) in another’s shoes – be (or put oneself) in another person’s situation or predicament. “If I’d been in your shoes I’d have walked out.”
  19. To have your heart set on something – to want something very much, so that you would be very disappointed if you do not get it. She’s got her heart set on dancing lessons.
  20. To have it made in the shade – To have a very easy life or to be in a very good situation. She had to work hard to achieve success, but now she has it made in the shade.
  21. To have something in the bag. Almost total success, and you’re certain to get it.
  22. Gone up in smoke – If your plans or dreams go up in smoke, they are destroyed.
  23. Smells, or sounds fishy – Something is suspicious or shady
  24. To go out of one’s way – To make a special effort to do something. Jim went out of his way to be kind to his new neighbor.
  25. To twist somebody’s arm – To persuade someone to do something they didn’t want to do.
  26. To bend over backwards – To try extremely hard to make great effort to help or to please someone. Richard bent over backwards to help his friend.
  27. Dead end – A situation that is unlikely to be successful, or a road that leads nowhere. We had several promising ideas, but they all turned out to be dead ends.
  28. To show, or to teach sb the ropes – To teach or introduce someone to a new job or skill. Mary showed her younger sister the ropes, and now she’s doing a great job.
  29. To play catch-up – To try to reach the same level, score or position, after one has fallen behind.
  30. To be on someone’s case – To continually criticize or harass someone. The teacher is on my case every day for forgetting my homework.
  31. To turn the tables on someone – To make a change so that person is now at a disadvantage.
  32. The last straw or the straw that breaks the camel’s back. – This is the last of a series of negative events and now you cannot accept it. Losing my job was bad enough but being evicted was the final straw.
  33. To be between a rock and a hard place – to be faced with two equally impossible alternatives.
  34. To get the picture – To see or understand a situation clearly.
  35. To chill out – To calm down, to relax, take it easy instead of worrying.
  36. To bark up the wrong tree – to pursue something erroneously. A dog barking up a tree when his quarry is hiding in the next tree.
  37. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – Do not concentrate all efforts and resources in one area, as one could lose everything. Mike diversifies his investments in many areas to avoid putting all his eggs in one basket.
  38. Back stabbing – Betrayal
  39. Costs and arm and a leg. – Something that’s very expensive, a high price to pay in money or suffering. Ex: How much does an arm and a leg actually cost? No one knows.
  40. The cat’s out of the bag – a secret has been revealed.
  41. To face the music – To have to accept the unpleasant consequences of one’s actions.
  42. To walk away – To leave something, do nothing about it, or face no bad consequences from it.
  43. To burn one’s bridges – To make negative comments that destroy one’s connections. Even if you are dismissed from a job take care to not burn your bridges with unseemly comments, as you never know when you’ll meet again.
  44. Fat chance! – That’s extremely unlikely!
  45. Not in a million years – Something is extremely unlikely
  46. To be in the dark – Confused, Unable to see anything.
  47. Red tape – Excessive rules, formalities, or bureaucracy
  48. Finding/looking for a needle in a haystack – Almost impossible to find a sewing needle in a haystack (a tall pile of dry grass).
  49. No sweat – No problem, don’t worry.
  50. Give it a shot – To try to do something. To make an attempt.
  51. It takes guts – It requires courage. It takes guts for firemen to enter a burning building.
  52. The squeaky wheel gets the grease – The loudest problem gets attention.
  53. Keep your eyes peeled – Keep your eyes open. Watch for something.
  54. To be on the lookout – To constantly watch for something. John stood up on the mast of the boat, on the lookout for an approaching ship.
  55. To hear through the grapevine – To learn of something informally through gossip or rumor.
  56. To have cold feet – To be too fearful to finish something.
  57. Out of the blue – By surprise, without warning, unexpectedly, out of the sky.
  58. Potluck – A meal or party to which each guest brings a dish
  59. To spill the beans – To reveal a secret.
  60. To spread the word, or the word spread – Jim’s friend spread the word about his new car. It took only an hour for word to spread around the office that John had been fired.
  61. To pull someone’s leg – To trick or to tell a lie to someone in a playful way.
  62. The bottom line – the final number in a financial report, or the final outcome of an issue.
  63. Grand – one thousand dollars
  64. To Score – To finally get something you wanted.
  65. One in a million – Chances are so low it makes something special, rare, extraordinary.
  66. Never imagined in my wildest dreams – I’m very surprised and could not have imagined it.
  67. Eye-opener – An event that is unexpectedly enlightening and surprising.
  68. A blessing in disguise – What appears to be a misfortune instead is a blessing, a benefit.
  69. Gotcha – Ha Ha, I win. To playfully trick someone.
  70. Ditto – The same, me too, I agree.
  71. Back atcha! – Back at you. – Same to you.

4. Day 2 Practice

You each have 9 random idiom flash cards and 3 gesture cards. Just like yesterday, I’d like you to get up and mingle around the room. Talk to others, and practice using all your expressions as much as possible. Refer to the list of meanings if necessary. Try to use American pronunciation and attitude. Have fun. You’ll have 10 minutes. Then put your cards back in the bowl in front of the class.

5. Day 2 Production

Find a partner. For this activity, you will receive 9 different random idioms and 3 gesture flash cards. I’d like you to plan a dialogue that makes sense together with your partner. Use at least 6 of your 18 idioms, and 3 gestures total. Write them down as a story, and then practice saying them with authentic pronunciation and attitude. You’ll have 10 minutes. In the following step I’d like you to perform your dialogue to the class.

6. Day 2 Review – Perform Dialogues

Now I’d like each pair to come up in front and share your conversations with the class. Please do not read them. Try to perform them with authentic American pronunciation and attitude. You’ll be graded according to the following rubric. Students will choose their favorite conversations and discuss why they like those expressions.

Rubric for Day 2 is Displayed in Front of the Class:

7. Day 2 Homework – Common Contractions

Contractions – YouTube Video:

I would like you to watch this video about contractions. Before you watch it, you need to be aware that a contraction is a combination of two words where one or more letters have been omitted, and an apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter or letters. An apostrophe (‘) is the little punctuation mark at or near the end of a word to make a noun possessive or to form a contraction. Example: “Is not” becomes “isn’t”. But be careful, because a contraction by definition is always written with an apostrophe. If it does not have an apostrophe, it is not a contraction. For example “gonna” is made of two words “going” and “to”. It has no apostrophe; therefore it is not a contraction. It could be called slang, or a combination of two words. Some people mistakenly call all combined words contractions, and this is not technically correct. Please keep this in mind for future reference and especially on English proficiency exams. In spite of the error in defining a contraction, this video is an excellent resource about contractions. It is correct in all other respects, in pronunciation, and word usage.

Handout of Contractions:

  1. Ya – You
  2. D’You – Do you?
  3. D’Ya – Do you?
  4. Ain’t – Am/Is/Are not
  5. Wanna – Want to
  6. Gimme – Give me
  7. Gotta – Got to
  8. Kinda – Kind of
  9. Lemme – Let me
  10. Dunno – Don’t know
  11. Lotta – Lot of
  12. Lotsa – Losts of
  13. Whatcha – What do you?
  14. Gonna – Going to
  15. Watcha Gonna – What are you going to?
  16. Whaddaya – What do you?
  17. Didja – Did you?
  18. Wheredja – Where did you?
  19. Howja – How did you?
  20. Gotcha – Got you.
  21. Thatsa – That is a

Day 3 – Idioms, Hand Gestures, and Contractions

1. Day 3 – Warm-up

Good morning! How did you like the video of contractions? Contractions are another way Americans like to save time. Between friends, we eliminate syllables whenever possible. My favorites are Gotcha, and Kinda.

Didja know that contractions are all about saving time? It’s kinda fun to speak to good friends this way.

2. Day 3 Introduction

The Introduction stage is omitted today in the interest of time, and we’re moving directly to Presentation. Students are already familar with the flow of the class from Monday and Wednesday. Today is the last day of the Thematic Unit. We need more time for Production, when students will prepare a bigger conversation using any of their favorite idioms, gestures and contractions studied this week.

3. Day 3 Presentation – “Easy as Pie” Dialogue

Students listen to teacher read, without text.
Then listen again with text, marking any favorites, or any questions.

  1. A: Hi, How are ya? 
  2. B: Great. Wanna Frappucino? – it’s on me.
  3. A: Thanks… I need to ask you something.
  4. B: OK. Shall we sit down? What’s up?
  5. A: Sally’s birthday is coming up on the 16th, a week from tomorrow. Some of us are going all-out for a surprise birthday party for her.
  6. B: Fantastic. That’s great.
  7. A:  This is a really important time to celebrate with her, and we wanna make a big splash.
  8. B. Sure thing. Sounds like fun. Whaddaya have in mind?
  9. A. It’s her birthday, she’s out of the hospital, and she and her mystery boyfriend just decided to tie the knot. Word’s out they’re gonna take the plunge and get married. 
  10. B:  Wow! I’m thrilled for her. But who is the mystery man? I’m all ears! Is she gonna be ok?
  11. A:  She’s doing great. She was really messed up with a bad case of adrenal fatigue and had to be under a doctor’s care 24/7. Now finally she’s out of the woods. Her health is strong, and she wants everybody to meet John. 
  12. B: Awesome. I’m so happy to hear it. Where’s the party gonna be?
  13. A: We were thinking of hanging out at Sam’s nightclub. Their BBQ ribs are top-notch, and I get a rush out of their pecan pie. We could do an ice-breaker game to introduce folks to John, then have dinner, open a few gifts for Sally, and finish with music. Wanna give me a hand?
  14. B: For sure I wanna help but I have mixed feelings about Sam’s night club. It’s far from town, out in the middle of nowhere and I dunno if anyone wants to drive that far. If there’s drinking, we’ll have to name a designated driver for every car, and that might be a big job. Where else can we do it?
  15. A: Well my place is a postage stamp. D’ya think we could do it at your place? We could make some finger foods and play some music. Wanna do that?
  16. B: But wait. (hand says wait) Trouble is my schedule is up in the air. I’m tied up every day this week. And I’m in a bind because my car’s in the shop. I was supposed to pick it up today, but it was raining cats and dogs. Without a car I’m stuck here at home. I might have to take a rain check on the whole thing.
  17. A: I totally get it. But I have a great idea. The word’s out about Sally and John, and it’s already raising a few eyebrows. John is excited to come out to meet everyone and put his best foot forward. He even offered to foot the bill for all the food and help out with transportation. Could he give you a lift to the shop to get your car tomorrow?
  18. B: You kidding me? That would be totally awesome! Just have him send me a text. What a gift!
  19. A: Fantastic! Everything is coming together like clockwork (OK, perfect).
  20. B: But hold on. (Stop) Wait a minute. I heard Sally’s doctor put her on a new diet. Now she eats only clean food – gluten-free, non-GMO, no refined carbs, and no sugar. Oh, and no-alcohol. Shucks! That sounds too hard. I don’t have any non-toxic recipes.
  21. A: Oh dear! That means all the food has to be homemade. And non-alcoholic. 
  22. B: Yeah, sounds like my grandma’s diet – everything from scratch. Then again, my grandma lived to 99. So whaddaya think we should do?
  23. A: No choice. We hafta make it a healthy food potluck. I’ll ask everybody to make one simple dish. Can you make something?
  24. B: You name it. I’ll try.
  25. A: How ‘bout homemade guacamole?
  26. B: I dunno. I’ll give it a shot. How d’you do that? Can you tell me off the top of your head?
  27. A: Easy as pie. Just mash an avocado, add a dash of lemon, garlic and salt. Tastes fantastic!
  28. OK, I guess I can manage that. Are ya sure that’ll work?
  29. Positive. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Can we say next Saturday at 6:00?
  30. B: Sure thing. It’s in my calendar. You can count on me. (Indicates watch) Hafta go now.
  31. A: Hey, thanks for your help. I’m gonna call the others now. John will be in touch. (Shhh) Remember, this is a big secret, so don’t breathe a word to Sally.
  32. B: Alright. (My lips are sealed.) Can’t wait to meet the mystery man! (Call me) Call me if you need anything.
  33. A: Yep, everybody’s totally pumped. This is gonna be awesome! (Thumbs up)
  34. B. See you on the flip flop! (Wave bye)
  35. A: Bye! (Casual bye)

Wait a minute. Stop. Hold it.

OK!  Perfect!

We decided to make a big splash for Sally’s birthday party.

Today it was raining cats and dogs, so we stayed home.

Easy as Pie – Expressions

  1. To make a splash – To attract a lot of attention, to launch a new product or idea publicly. Jane made quite a splash at the club with her new fashions.
  2. To tie the knot – To get married.
  3. To take the plunge – To commit oneself to a new and risky course of action, to get married.
  4. I’m all ears – I’m really listening – gossip or news.
  5. To be messed up – to be confused, to be sick, to make a mistake, to be mentally ill.
  6. 24/7 –Twenty-four hours of the day. The drug store is open 24/7.
  7. To be out of the woods – To be out of danger or difficulty. After a long time in therapy, Joe is finally out of the woods.
  8. To hang out- To spend a lot of relaxing time in a place or with someone: My sister and I used to hang out at the school cafeteria.
  9. Top-notch – Excellent, very good quality
  10. To get a rush out of something – A good feeling, a buzz, a strong sense of enjoyment, an intense feeling of joy.
  11. Ice breaker – A game or activity to introduce people to feel more relaxed together. She started the training session with an amusing ice breaker game.
  12. To give someone a hand – to help with a project.
  13. Mixed feelings. A partly positive and partly negative reaction to something. I have mixed feelings about this trip because I sometimes get sick on airplanes.
  14. Out in the middle of nowhere – A place that is remote and isolated.
  15. Designated driver- A person chosen to abstain from drinking, to drive others home safely.
  16. A postage stamp – Something very small. There’s no room in Mary’s kitchen – it’s a postage stamp.
  17. Finger food – Party food that can be eaten with the fingers.
  18. Up in the air –Uncertain, unresolved, still unclear
  19. To be tied up – To be very busy, can’t speak to anyone or go anywhere.
  20. To be in a bind, or a jam– to be in a difficult, threatening, or embarrassing position.
  21. Raining cats and dogs – Raining so hard that the animals on the roof fall into the house.
  22. To be stuck – To be fixed tightly be unable to move. I’m stuck at home until my sister gets back with the car.
  23. To take a rain check – To politely refuse an invitation, implying that I might accept it at a later date. “I can’t make it tonight, but I’d like to take a rain check.”
  24. To raise a few eyebrows – To cause others to react with surprise, mild disapproval, or suspicion. Sally’s flippant attitude at the party raised a few eyebrows.
  25. To put one’s best foot forward- To show oneself in the most positive way, to make a favorable impression.
  26. To foot the bill- To pay for something, esp. something expensive. Her parents are going to foot the bill for Linda’s graduation party.
  27. To give someone a lift- To take someone somewhere in your car. Do you need a lift home?
  28. Like clockwork – Very smoothly and easily.
  29. From scratch – From nothing, from the very beginning, without anything pre-made. “Jack built his company from scratch”
  30. Easy as pie – Very easy. As simple and pleasurable as eating pie.
  31. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it  – You should try something before criticizing it.
  32. To count on – To rely on someone or something. To depend on it.
  33. Don’t breathe a word. – Do not reveal a secret. Keep utterly quiet. “Promise not to breathe a word of what I’m telling you.”
  34. Pumped – Excited, filled with enthusiasm.
  35. See you on the flip-flop –  Informal good-bye. See you pretty soon. Like the flip side of vinyl record.

4. Day 3 Practice

You will each have 9 random flash cards, 3 gesture cards, and your list of the contractions. Just like yesterday, I’d like you to get up and mingle around the room. Talk to other people, and practice using these idioms, gestures, and contractions as much as possible. Refer to the list of meanings if necessary. Try to use American pronunciation and attitude. Have fun. You’ll have 10 minutes. Then put your cards back in the bowl in front of the class.

5. Day 3 Production

Find a partner. This is the BIG activity. You can use ANY idioms, ANY gestures, and ANY contractions we have studied this week. I’d like you to plan a conversation together with your partner that makes sense like a story. Please use at least 9 idioms, 3 gestures, and 3 contractions. Write them down, and then practice saying them with authentic pronunciation and attitude. You’ll have 30 minutes. In the following step I’d like you to perform your dialogue to the class.

6. Day 3 Review

Now I’d like each pair to come up in front and share your conversations with the class. Please do not read them. Try to perform them with authentic American pronunciation and attitude. You’ll be graded according to the following rubric. Today’s points are double the last two days. When we finish, the students will choose which was the best conversation, and discuss why they like those expressions.

Rubric for Day 3 is Displayed in Front of the Class:

Day 3 Homework:

Instructions to Students: Over the weekend please watch the movie Breaking Away. Listen carefully and take notes on any words or expressions you don’t understand. We’ll discuss them in class on Monday. Breaking Away is about a young American man and his working-class friends who just graduated from high school and want to plan their future. The four friends face trouble from all directions as they try to help Dave’s dreams come true in a big bicycle race.

Come view the movie on the large screen at the local community center this Saturday at 2:00 pm, or watch it here online.


Alan, Victoria. 20 Essential English Idioms for Sounding Like a Native. https://www.fluentu.com/blog/english/essential-english-idioms/

Bedelia, Amelia. Harper Collins Children’s Books. http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/kids/gamesandcontests/features/amelia/

University of Cambridge. ESOL Examinations. Cambridge English: Proficiency Exam, a not-for-profit department of the University of Cambridge. https://www.venturesbooks.cz/images/download/cpe-testy.pdf

Pesce, Claudia. How to Teach English Idioms and Their Meanings. https://busyteacher.org/3712-how-to-teach-english-idioms-and-their-meaning.html

Eizen, Joe. Idioms in Pictures. https://www.behance.net/gallery/5719523/Idioms-in-pictures

Luke. Top 20 Slang Contractions List. Informal Contractions. Learn English with ESL Team. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGuRzN1wnBI

NHNGUYEN, QUY. Speak English Naturally with 37 Common English Idioms. https://www.fluentu.com/blog/english/english-idioms-2/

Oliver, Dennis. ESL Idioms Page. Lists, Definitions, and Examples. http://www.eslcafe.com/idioms/


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