50 Idioms to Teach Kids and Use in Idiom of the Day Lessons

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Every language has idioms, expressions that have a meaning that isn’t immediately obvious from the words themselves. Over time, we become so used to these phrases and expressions that we don’t even notice them. But young students and those who are learning English as a second language often find idioms confusing. Trying “Idiom of the Day” lessons with your class will build their comfort level.

We’ve put together a list of some of the most common English idioms, complete with meanings and examples. Share these images with your students to deepen their understanding and use of American English idioms in no time flat!

Idiom Examples to Use in Idiom of the Day Lessons

1. A fish out of water

A fish out of water

Meaning: Someone in an uncomfortable position or situation

Example: It was Allison’s first day at her new school, and she felt like a fish out of water.

2. Add insult to injury

Add insult to injury--idioms of the day

Meaning: Do something to make a bad situation worse

Example: Learning she failed her science test on the same day her best friend moved away added insult to injury.

3. Anything but

Anything but

Meaning: Not at all

Example: When they heard about the pop quiz, the students were anything but excited.

4. Barking up the wrong tree

Barking up the wrong tree--idioms of the day

Meaning: To be looking for answers in the wrong place

Example: James thought Christopher was the one who broke the vase, but he was barking up the wrong tree.

5. Beat around the bush

Beat around the bush idioms examples

Meaning: To avoid saying what you mean, often because it would be difficult or uncomfortable

Example: Don’t beat around the bush. Just tell me why you can’t come to my birthday party on Friday.

6. Bite the bullet

Bite the bullet idioms examples

Meaning: To do something that’s uncomfortable or not fun and get it over with

Example: After putting it off for several days, Alex decided to bite the bullet and start work on the history project.

7. Break a leg

Break a leg

Meaning: Good luck! Often used in the theater before a play or performance

Example: Is your piano recital tonight? Well, break a leg!

8. Break the ice

Break the ice

Meaning: To do or say something that will make people feel more comfortable

Example: “OK, since none of us have met before, let’s introduce ourselves and break the ice by sharing our favorite ice cream flavor.”

9. Call it a day

Call it a day

Meaning: To stop working on something and plan to pick it up again later

Example: After working for three hours on her science fair project, Sofia decided to call it a day.

10. Costs an arm and a leg

Costs an arm and a leg

Meaning: To describe something that is very expensive

Example: A new Playstation costs an arm and a leg, so you’d better start saving now if you want to buy one.

11. Cut somebody some slack

Cut somebody some slack

Meaning: To ease up on someone, to allow them some leeway or another chance

Example: Even though Jake was late with his English essay, Ms. Davis decided to cut him some slack since she knew he’d had the stomach flu.

12. Cutting corners

Cutting corners

Meaning: To do something quickly and badly in order to save time or money

Example: Liza cut corners on her math homework so she could watch TV, and ended up getting most of the answers wrong.

13. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

Don't count your chickens before they hatch

Meaning: Don’t depend on something before it’s happened

Example: I know you’re sure you’re going to get the lead in the spring play, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

14. Every cloud has a silver lining

Every cloud has a silver lining

Meaning: No matter how bad something seems, there’s usually a good side to it as well

Example: Jamal was disappointed that his soccer game was canceled, but it gave him time to go the movies with his friends, and his mom pointed out that every cloud has a silver lining.

15. Get out of hand

Get out of hand

Meaning: To become difficult to control

Example: Ms. Rodriguez told her students they could chat while they worked, as long as the noise level didn’t get out of hand.

16. Get something out of your system

Get something out of your system

Meaning: Do the thing you’ve been wanting to do so you can move on

Example: Mr. Patel knew his students were eager to try out the new playground equipment, so he told them to go ahead and get it out of their system before they started class.

17. Get your act together

Get your act together

Meaning: Behave properly, or organize your thoughts so you can do something successfully

Example: After the third time he was late to class, Connor’s teacher told him he needed to get his act together and start showing up on time.

18. Give someone the benefit of the doubt

Give someone the benefit of the doubt

Meaning: To trust what someone says, even if you’re not entirely sure what they’re saying is true

Example: Charlotte wasn’t sure Amelia was really late because she missed the bus, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

19. Give someone the cold shoulder

Give someone the cold shoulder

Meaning: To ignore someone, usually because you’re upset or angry with them

Example: Will and Jessica were mad at Emma, so they decided to give her the cold shoulder until she apologized.

20. Go back to the drawing board

Go back to the drawing board

Meaning: To start something over again with a completely new idea

Example: When her science experiment failed completely, Hailey knew it was time to go back to the drawing board.

21. Hang in there

Hang in there

Meaning: Don’t give up, keep on trying

Example: “I’m sorry you’re having a rough day,” Lucas told Olivia. “Hang in there. I’m sure things will be better tomorrow.”

22. Hit-or-miss


Meaning: Something that might be good sometimes and bad other times

Example: Anna was a bit hit-or-miss when it came to remembering to take out the trash on Thursdays.

23. Hit the sack/Hit the hay

Hit the sack idioms examples

Meaning: To go to bed

Example: “Nine o’clock!” said Mia’s dad. “It’s time to turn off the TV and hit the sack.”

24. It’s not rocket science

It's not rocket science idioms examples

Meaning: Used to describe something that isn’t complicated or difficult

Example: All you have to do is put the books back on the right shelf. It’s not rocket science!

25. It’s raining cats and dogs

It's raining cats and dogs

Meaning: To rain very hard

Example: I hope you brought your umbrella. It’s raining cats and dogs out there!

26. Let someone off the hook

Let someone off the hook

Meaning: To not hold someone responsible for something

Example: Logan was caught running in the hallway, but Ms. Walker let him off the hook because she knew he was late for the bus.

27. Miss the boat

Miss the boat

Meaning: To be too late for something that’s already started or is over

Example: Sarah wanted to join the lacrosse team, but she was too late to sign up and missed the boat.

28. On the ball

On the ball

Meaning: To be quick and alert, dealing with things right away

Example: Alice got all her homework done and practiced her clarinet before dinner. She’s really on the ball today!

29. On cloud nine

On cloud nine

Meaning: Extremely happy about something

Example: When Wyatt learned he’d gotten a perfect score on both his math and science tests, he was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

30. On thin ice

On thin ice

Meaning: In a risky situation or position

Example: When Mrs. Chen had to ask Ava and Noah to stop talking for the fourth time that day, she warned them both that they were on thin ice.

31. Pull someone’s leg

Pull someone's leg

Meaning: To tease someone or try to fool them

Example: No, the cafeteria isn’t really giving away free ice cream. I was just pulling your leg!

32. Pull yourself together

Pull yourself together

Meaning: To calm yourself down when you’re very upset

Example: I know you’re upset that your team lost the game, but you need to pull yourself together and go congratulate the winners.

33. Second wind

Second wind

Meaning: A fresh burst of energy

Example: Quinn thought she was too tired to go to the party after playing soccer all afternoon, but then she got a second wind.

34. Spill the beans

Spill the beans

Meaning: To give away a secret

Example: Isabella’s surprise party was ruined when Sarah spilled the beans a few days before.

35. Take a rain check

Take a rain check

Meaning: To postpone a plan until another time

Example: I’d love to play basketball after school, but I’ve got to go home to mow the lawn. Can I take a rain check?

36. The ball is in your court

The ball is in your court

Meaning: The decision or next step is up to you

Example: Nick’s mom told him he could either join the basketball team or sign up for karate class, so he had to choose one. “The ball is in your court,” she said.

37. The early bird gets the worm

The early bird gets the worm

Meaning: Those who arrive first have the best chance for success or receive the best things

Example: Grayson and Jayden showed up to find the best seats in the room already taken. “The early bird gets the worm!” said Maya with a grin.

38. The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room

Meaning: A large, obvious issue or problem that people are avoiding mentioning or dealing with

Example: After waiting for Joseph to explain his bright green hair all through dinner, his mom finally decided it was time to address the elephant in the room.

39. The icing on the cake

The icing on the cake

Meaning: Something that makes a good situation even better

Example: The band was excited to learn they’d earned a place in the regional competition. Finding out it would take place at Disney World was the icing on the cake.

40. The last straw

The last straw idioms examples

Meaning: The last in a series of events that causes someone to run out of patience

Example: “That’s the last straw!” said Elena after her little brother’s ball landed in her cereal bowl. “Go play outside!”

41. The whole nine yards

The whole nine yards

Meaning: Everything, all the way

Example: Grace and Nora went the whole nine yards to make sure Hannah’s birthday party was really special.

42. Through thick and thin

Through thick and thin

Meaning: When things are good and also when they’re bad

Example: Sophie and Chloe had been best friends since first grade, sticking together through thick and thin.

43. Time flies when you’re having fun

Time flies when you're having fun<

Meaning: When you’re having a good time, you don’t notice how quickly the time is passing

Example: “Recess is over already?” said Ben. “I guess time flies when you’re having fun!”

44. To get bent out of shape

To get bent out of shape

Meaning: To get upset about something

Example: I didn’t mean to step on your foot—there’s no need to get bent out of shape about it.

45. To make a long story short

To make a long story short

Meaning: To give the basic facts about something instead of a long explanation

Example: To make a long story short, Liam tripped over his shoelace and that’s how he broke his wrist.

46. Under the weather

Under the weather idioms examples

Meaning: To be sick

Example: Miguel won’t be at the scout meeting today because he’s feeling a little under the weather.

47. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it

We'll cross that bridge when we come to it

Meaning: If that problem comes up, we’ll deal with it then, not right now

Example: We might have a snow day on Monday, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

48. Wrap your head around something

Wrap your head around something

Meaning: To understand something complicated or surprising

Example: It’s hard to wrap your head around just how big the universe is.

49. You can say that again

You can say that again

Meaning: I completely agree with what you just said

Example: “This pizza is best food I ever ate!” exclaimed Mateo. “You can say that again!” Dylan agreed.

50. Your guess is as good as mine

Your guess is as good as mine

Meaning: When you have no idea what the answer is to a question or problem

Example: “Do you know how to solve number four in our math homework?” Maria asked. “Your guess is as good as mine,” David replied, shrugging his shoulders.

What other idioms do you teach in your Idiom of the Day lessons? Come share in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, 13 puns and jokes only a true grammar nerd will get.

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