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'Get the Ball Rolling':
Fun With English-
Language Idioms



  • Language Arts


  • 3-5

Brief Description

Fred Gwynn's books motivate students to learn about idioms.


Students consider multiple meanings of some English-language idioms.


idiom, figure of speech, word meaning

Materials Needed

  • drawing paper
  • crayons or markers
  • books of Fred Gwynne

The Lesson

This activity is based on one I actually remember being used by my own fourth-grade teacher. To this day, I still remember what our assignment was, what my idiom was, and what it looked like. I used this idea last year in my own classroom, but I added a slight twist

Begin the lesson by sharing one of Fred Gwynn's books:

  • A Little Pigeon Toad
  • The King Who Rained
  • A Chocolate Moose for Dinner

    The book A Little Pigeon Toad (Fred Gwynne, Aladdin, 1990) begins with the text, "Mommy says Daddy is a little pigeon toad." Most of us know that those words, spoken together, mean that Daddy walks with his toes turned in. But the daughter who hears that comment for the first time imagines in her mind that Daddy is a bird with a toad head.

    The subsequent pages of A Little Pigeon Toad , and the other books by Fred Gwynne, are filled with distinctly American expressions such as that one. The books are wonderful tools for introducing students to common expressions that are not to be taken literally. Students always laugh at the illustrations; and they are a great tool for reinforcing the language concepts of idioms, homonyms, figures of speech and others.

    After sharing A Little Pigeon Toad, you might introduce students to some other idioms. To gather idioms that students might illustrate, you might draw from

    a bummer
    a class act
    a couch potato
    a fly on the wall
    a horse of another color
    a tough cookie
    bark up the wrong tree
    beat around the bush
    bend over backwards
    bent out of shape
    break her heart
    blow your top
    don’t burn your bridges
    call it a day
    cat got your tongue
    caught his eye
    chewing the fat
    clear the air
    cost an arm and a leg
    cut it out
    crocodile tears
    dog days of summer
    don’t pull my leg
    don't count your chickens
    don't have a cow
    down in the dumps
    eagle eyes
    eating crow
    fishing for a compliment
    get someone's goat
    get it off your chest
    get the ball rolling
    give me a break
    give me a hand
    give someone the boot
    go ape
    go behind someone's back
    have a ball
    have a canary
    head over heels
    hit the books
    hit the sack
    hold your horses
    holy cow
    I’m all ears
    in the dark
    in the dog house
    in the red
    it's raining cats and dogs
    kick the bucket
    left out in the cold
    let the cat out of the bag
    lose your cool
    my two cent's worth
    pick my brain
    proud as a peacock
    put on the back burner
    read my mind
    rock the boat
    sharp as a tack
    shoot the breeze
    spill the beans
    straight from a horse's mouth
    it rings a bell
    under the weather
    up to one's ears
    walk on eggshells
    work like a dog

    Give students sheets of 11" x 18" drawing paper. Have them fold the sheets in half. Have them write their idiom across the top of the left side of the page with an illustration of the false interpretation that might be made by somebody hearing the expression for the first time; on the other side of the page, students should draw an illustration of what the expression actually means.


    My students had a great time creating these drawings. Now when I ask my students what an idiom is, they are very eager to answer since they all know what it is. This project really engaged their minds and their creativity. It also helped them become more proficient writers; they write more colorfully now. I did not use a test to assess my students' knowledge of idioms, but you could easily create a 10-question matching activity. Have students draw a line from the idiom in the left column to its meaning in the right column.

    Submitted By

    Submitted by Cindy Kimbrell, Rusk Elementary in Midland, Texas

    Education World®
    Copyright © 2009 Education World

    Originally published 11/24/2004
    Last updated 05/25/2009