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English Idioms Every ESL Student Should Know

By VIPKid  |  May 28, 2018

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The term “idiom” relates to a word or phrase that means something different from its literal meaning. English idioms make the speech flow more naturally and bring it closer to the level of a native speaker.

Therefore, idioms should be an integral part of any ESL program. In this article, we are going to share some popular idioms examples for students broken down into categories. So apart from fun ESL activities, you can use these to liven up your ESL lesson plan.

See these examples for some of the coolest ESL activities.

Fun ESL Idioms About Color

Out of the blue

Suddenly. Example: Out of the blue, a car appeared on the road.

To feel blue

Be sad. Example: I’m feeling blue today, so I won’t go to the party.

Black and blue

Covered in bruises. Example: Terry is always black and blue after his boxing training.

White collar worker

Office worker. Example: Mandy was tired of being a white collar worker, so she left her job and went to Bali.

Golden rule

Main rule, rule number 1. Example: Never being late to work is a golden rule of our company.

Catch someone red-handed

To catch someone during crime commitment or doing something wrong. Example: The guard caught the thief red-handed when he was trying to steal an iPhone.

Food and Drinks ESL Idiom Examples

Piece of cake

Something very easy to do. Example: Can you translate this small test? – Yes, that’s a piece of cake for me.

Apple of one’s eye

Someone who is very important to a person. Example: My son is the apple of my eye.

Not my cup of tea

I’m not interested in it. Example: Let’s go to the party tonight! – No, I’d better stay at home, that’s not my cup of tea.

Bread and butter

A vital component of something, a job that provides one with a steady income. Example: Sometimes I work as an interpreter at conferences, but teaching English to foreign students is my bread and butter.

Cool as a cucumber

Very relaxed. Example: I may seem to be cool as a cucumber, but actually I’m very nervous now.

Idioms ESL About Weather

Save up for a rainy day

Save money until some emergency case when it is needed. Example: We will never know what happens tomorrow, so it’s better to save some money for a rainy day.

Come rain or shine

Do it no matter what happens. Example: He is always there for her, come rain or shine.

Over the moon

Extremely happy. Example: Sally was over the moon after she got a proposal from Mike.

Under the weather

To feel not very good. Example: I’m a bit under the weather today, so I’ll call in sick.

A storm in a teacup

A small problem made big. Example: All this panic was just a storm in a teacup.

Animal Idioms for ESL

As busy as a bee

Extremely busy. Example: It’s useless to ask her out – she’s always as busy as a bee.

Eagle eye

With an excellent vision or watching very closely. Example: The teacher goes over the tests with an eagle eye.

A bull in a china shop

A very clumsy person. Example: Tom… Always ruining everything. He’s like a bull in a china shop.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Meaning: Someone or something dangerous pretending to be innocent. Example: I never trust strangers because they can appear to be wolves in sheep’s clothing

Cat nap

A short sleep. Example: I had a cat nap during the meeting at work, but no one noticed that.


A person who does the same thing as someone else. Example: They look so alike, but they are not sisters. They may be copycatting each other.

English Idioms About Time

To kill time

To do something to entertain yourself while waiting for something or someone. Example: How do you kill time when you have no more tasks to do?

Time flies

Time passes very quickly. Example: The kids have grown up so quickly. Time flies!

Around the clock

24 hours a day. Example: Our customer support works around the clock, so you can submit your request at any time.

Better late than never

It is better to do something late than not do it at all. Example: I’ve got my parcel after two months. Better late than never!

Like clockwork

At regular intervals. Example: I wake up every day at the same time, like clockwork.

Long time no see

I haven’t seen this person for a long time. Example: Hey Mike! Is that really you? Long time to see!

We hope that our list will help your students learn idioms in a quick and fun way. If you need more, we’ve got you covered with the 10 common English idioms ESL students need to know.

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