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How to teach idioms with AS…AS

By Alex Case
How to present and practise as…as idioms like “as hungry as a wolf”

Expressions with “as…as”—like as cool as a cucumber—are a great group of phrases to teach, as there is a nice mix of easy, obvious idioms and others which are colourful, interesting or amusing. A lesson on this also connects well with vocabulary like adjectives and animals, to the more general use of “as…as” (dealt with in another article), and to other comparing language like “…er”.

How to present idioms with as…as

The great thing about presenting expressions with “as…as” is that it is possible for students to guess something about most idioms even if they haven’t come across many before, so I always start by giving them around 15 split idioms to put together. To make a suitable list, choose idioms that:

  • are common
  • only contain useful vocabulary for the students
  • can almost all be put together from their meaning and/ or by matching similar sounds

These can then be split and mixed on a worksheet, or made into the pairwork or dominoes described below.

Idioms with as…as matching pairwork

Matching “As gentle + as a lamb” is best done with half of each idiom on a Student A worksheet and the other half on the Student B version, with them working together to match them without showing their worksheets to each other.

Idioms with as…as dominoes

Make dominoes with the end of one idiom on the left and the start of a different idiom on the right of each card (“… as silk./ As angry…”, etc) Students work together to match up the idioms to put all the dominoes into a big circle, then can deal out the cards to play a more competitive game of dominoes.

Idioms with as…as bluff

A very different classic activity for presenting idioms with “as…as” is Call My Bluff. Students are given real idioms and definitions like “As blind as a bat – with bad eyesight” and make up false versions like “As blind as a mole”, “As blood thirsty as a bat” and “can only see at night”. They read out a mix of the true and false versions, and hope the other students choose the wrong one.

So students don’t remember the wrong versions, you’ll then need to do at least one more activity like adding missing words in the real idioms.

How to practise idioms with as…as

Idioms with as…as reversi

Make cards with one half of the idiom on one side and the other half on the other (“as old…/ …as the hills”). Students lay the cards across the table, either side up, and take turns trying to remember the whole idioms from the halves that they can see, continuing until they make a mistake. Correctly guessed cards are left the other way up to be guessed the opposite way next time. The longest string of correct idioms in one go wins.

Freer practice of idioms with as…as

Idioms with as…as ranking

Groups of students rank the idioms:

  • from the most positive/ complimentary to the most negative/ insulting
  • from those they like best (because they are easy to understand, evocative, funny, etc) to those they like least (because they make no sense, seem too specific to be useful, etc)
  • from most common to least common (maybe Googling to check afterwards)

Idioms with as…as discuss and agree

Students try to agree on food which is as tough as old boots, investments which are safe as houses, etc.

Idioms with as…as sales talk

Students try to use the idioms to write advertising (“Are you as busy as a bee? Well,…” etc)

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Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET January 2023
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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