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Lesson Plan

Figurative Language: Teaching Idioms

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Figurative Language: Teaching Idioms

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 45-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Laurie A. Henry, Ph.D.

Laurie A. Henry, Ph.D.

Lexington, Kentucky


International Literacy Association



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



By developing a clear understanding of figurative language, students can further comprehend texts that contain metaphorical and lexical meanings beyond the basic word level. In this lesson, students explore figurative language with a focus on the literal versus the metaphorical translations of idioms. Through read-alouds, teacher modeling, and student-centered activities that are presented in the classroom, students will further develop their understanding of figurative language.

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  • Eye on Idioms: Your students can use this interactive online tool to view literal representations of selected idioms, complete the sentence by selecting the correct idiom from the list, determine the metaphorical meaning of the idiom, and then use the idiom in a sentence to show their understanding of its meaning.

  • Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms by Marvin Terban (Scholastic, 1998): Students can use this great resource to research idioms, including their origins and how their origins relate to the metaphorical meaning of the phrases.

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Nilsen, A.P. & Nilsen, D.L.F. (2003). A new spin on teaching vocabulary: A source-based approach. The Reading Teacher, 56, 436439.

  • By knowing the origins of idioms, students can more easily figure out the metaphorical meanings.

  • Discussions focused on the origins of words and phrases help students understand how language transforms over time and, thereby, enables them to hypothesize in a more meaningful way the meaning of unfamiliar words or phrases.


Zigo, D. (2001). From familiar worlds to possible worlds: Using narrative theory to support struggling readers' engagements with texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45, 6270.

  • When teachers encourage students' natural inclinations toward narrative forms of meaning making, in conjunction with text-based lessons, the students appear more engaged with textual content and demonstrate less resistance to reading material that might otherwise be challenging or frustrating.

  • Students respond to texts through narrative approaches, encouraging them to engage in role-playing and to allow memories, images, and stories to surface as they begin to develop interpretations.

  • Students are more likely to understand, recall, and care about what a metaphor means after having played with the word through a highly personalized, storied exploration of their own experiences of metaphorical language.

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