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Free EFL/ESL Lesson Plan: How to Teach Slang and Idioms

Thai students on a classroom picnic - copyright arthit, Creative Commons License


Teaching English (EFL/ESL) in Thailand, one thing I’ve noticed is my students’ inability to understand native English speakers because of the slang and idioms we all use. Even my highest level EFL business students, who are fluent in perfectly precise English, struggle to understand what I say if I use slang or idioms. That’s why in the last couple of years, every time I teach an EFL business course, I always include at least one class on slang and idioms and this is the lesson plan I teach.

Expected Outcome: – EFL/ESL students will be able to understand what a set number of idioms and slang terms mean as well as be able to remember them. Students will also be able to participate in a lively class and every student will be able to keep up with the rest.

Materials and Resources: – Whiteboard markers, whiteboard, handouts – one of English idioms and one of English slang.

Teaching Procedures:

Step One: I always begin the lesson by talking about English idioms and slang and asking my business students how much they understand. A few will mention a couple of slang terms they’ve heard in American movies but, in eight years of teaching, I’ve only had two students I would say were well-versed in English slang. One had been educated at university in America and the other watched at least 10 hours of American TV shows every week.

Step Two: Next, I divide the class into teams. If it’s a small EFL business English class I just split students into two teams. If it’s larger, three or four teams usually suffice.

Step Three: Now, I explain the rules of the “Idioms and Slang” game (most of the time EFL students in Asia learn faster if you can put the lesson into a game, which is what I do most of the time).

I explain that each team starts with 100 points. When it is their turn to answer a question, they first must choose a) if they want to answer a slang or an idiom question and b) how many points they will ‘bet’. I will then read out a question and they answer it. If they get it correct, they ‘win’ the number of points they bet, if they get it wrong they ‘lose’ them. So, for instance, if they ‘bet; 20 points out of their beginning 100 points, and answer the question correctly, at the end of that round they’ll have 120 points. If they get the answer incorrect, they’ll have only 80 points.

This will continue through every round until the winning team is the one with the most points. The beauty of this game, and how it keeps everyone involved is, you don’t always have to know the correct answers to win. You can also ‘bet’ well or ‘bet’ dangerously and get the same result.

Step Four: Now the game begins.

Each team takes a turn and chooses either ‘Slang’ or ‘Idiom’ question. I always create it so that ‘Slang’ questions are multiple choice questions (which I read outloud to my business students) and for ‘Idioms’ my students are given the idiom in a possible sentence.


Slang question: A Mickey Mouse question is…… a) a question about cartoon characters, b) a stupid question or c) a smart question (correct answer = stupid question). (You’d be surprised how many of my Thai business students tell me it’s a question about cartoon characters).

Idiom question: Students are given the idiom “big guns”, then the sentence “We knew we must attend the meeting as all the big guns would be there” and they have to tell me what they think it means (surprisingly, quite a few guess ‘important people’).

Step Five: I run the game for around 30-45 minutes with students continuing to ‘bet’ points and see an increase or decrease in overall points depending on their answers.

Throughout the game, I also stop periodically to explain in more detail about each slang word or idiom and give examples if they don’t understand. I also ask them to put the terms in a sentence if they’re struggling.

Step Six: At the end of the ‘Slang and Idioms’ game, students should have heard around 30 new slang terms or idioms in total.

These 30 terms are then given to them as homework to memorize and put into a sentence that makes sense.

Step Seven: Once I’ve run a ‘Slang and Idioms’ class with a group of EFL business students, from then on, I introduce one new slang term and one idiom in every class I teach them. By the end of the semester, they’ll usually have between 80-100 new English terms they’re quite comfortable using.

Expected Outcome – With this new found knowledge, I’ve noticed not only do they learn new slang and idioms in class, it also motivates them to figure out other slang and idiom terms they hear on American or British TV.

Materials –

Multiple Choice English Slang Test – I use this, which is ‘Level 1’ or the ‘Level 2’ test listed on the same site

Good List of More than 400 English Idioms – I create my own ‘example sentences’, targeted towards the level of English my students can understand