LinguiSystems home
No-Glamour® Idioms
Ages: 11-18   Grades: 6-Adult

No-Glamour Idioms includes everything you need to help your students recognize and understand over 700 current English idiomatic expressions.


  • Accurately interpret and use idioms
  • Recognize and think about any expression that doesn't make sense literally
  • Communicate more effectively
Add to Cart
** This is a Cloud E-Book that is accessible from any device with Internet access. .

Developed for students in grade six and above who have trouble understanding idiomatic expressions, the lessons are especially effective for students with Asperger's syndrome, high-functioning autism, learning disabilities, and limited English proficiency.

The readability of the stories is controlled at or below grade 6.0.  The tasks require minimal writing and emphasize determining meaning via context clues.  Each lesson teaches ten idioms in a sequence of tasks that demand increased mastery of the figurative expressions.  Your students will:

  • listen to and/or read a story containing ten idioms and answer questions about the story
  • study the set of ten idioms individually in varied contexts in order to accurately define, explain, and paraphrase them
  • match the idioms to their definitions
  • compare and contrast closely related idioms

Use the Previewing Readiness for Idiom Lessons tool to determine whether a student would benefit from the lessons in the book as well as to judge the amount of support the student requires to manage the lessons.  Additional helps include a progress log, an idiom log, and an answer key.

Copyright © 2009

275 pages, progress log, Previewing Readiness for Idiom Lessons, answer key
  • According to the National Reading Panel, students need multiple exposures and repetition to develop rich vocabulary skills, including understanding and using idiomatic words and expressions.  The panel found that explicit instruction of vocabulary is highly effective and recommended using multiple tasks to teach vocabulary in context (National Reading Panel, 2000).
  • Figurative language interpretation instruction is a necessary component of reading comprehension curriculum for at-risk students, who find idioms and figurative expressions particularly difficult to understand (Palmer & Brooks, 2004; Wiig & Semel,1984).  This inability impairs text comprehension (Diamond & Gutlohn, 2006).  People with language-learning disabilities may struggle with idioms even in adulthood (Wallach & Miller, 1988).
  • Although there are patterns in understanding idioms, children learn most idioms one at a time, generally in context (Vicker, 2007).
  • Successfully learning idioms depends upon processing context clues, the transparency or figurativeness, and prior exposure to an idiom (Nippold & Duthie, 2003; Nippold & Martin, 1989).  Transparent idioms (close relationship between the figurative and literal meanings) are easier to understand than figurative idioms (Levorato & Cacciari, 1999).
  • An effective vocabulary program includes directed, explicit instruction; opportunities to practice using words; teaching meanings explicity and systematically; and teaching independent word-learning strategies, such as context clues (Graves, 2006).
  • Explicitly teaching and reinforcing inference skills, including understanding idioms, yields better overall text comprehension, text engagement, and metacognitive thinking.  Students should cite the evidence they used to draw conclusions in order to make the implicit process of making inferences more explicit (McMackin & Lawrence, 2001).

No-Glamour Idioms incorporates these principles and is also based on expert professional practice.


Diamond, L., & Gutlohn, L. (2006). Vocabulary handbook. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.

Graves, M.F. (2006). Vocabulary instruction in the middle grades. Voices from the Middle, 15, 13-19.

Levorato, M.C., & Cacciari, C. (1999). Idiom comprehension in children: Are the effects of semantic analyzability and context separable? European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 2, 51-66.

McMackin, M.C., & Lawrence, S. (2001). Investigating inferences: Constructing meaning from expository texts. Reading Horizons, 42, 117-137.

National Reading Panel. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: Reports of the subgroups. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Nippold, M.A., & Duthie, J.K. (2003). Mental imagery and idiom comprehension: A comparison of school-age children and adults. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 788-799.

Nippold, M.A., & Martin, S.T. (1989). Idiom interpretation in isolation versus context: A developmental study with adolescents. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 32, 59-66.

Palmer, B.C., & Brooks, M.A. (2004). Reading until the cows come home: Figurative language and reading comprehension. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47, 370-379.

Vicker, B. (2007). Aiding comprehension of individuals with autism spectrum disorders during one-on-one interactions. Retrieved October 2008, from

Wallach, G.P., & Miller, L. (1988). Language intervention and academic success. San Diego, CA: College-Hill/ Little Brown.

Wiig, E.H., & Semel, E. (1984). Language assessment and intervention for the learning disabled (2nd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill Publishing.


Carolyn LoGiudice, Kate LaQuay


Carolyn LoGiudice, M.A., CCC-SLP, wrote and edited products and tests for LinguiSystems for 25 years, incorporating her previous experience as an SLP in school and clinic settings.  She is now retired and savoring time with her family, friends, and hobbies.  Carolyn has co-authored many teaching materials and tests with LinguiSystems, including The WORD Test 2 Adolescent, Social Language Development Test Elementary, Test Of Problem Solving 2 (TOPS 2), Tasks Of Problem Solving, Room 28 A Social Language Program, Spotlight on Reading & Listening Comprehension, Spotlight on Reasoning & Problem Solving, and Reading Comprehension To Go.


Kate LaQuay, J.D., became part of LinguiSystems' extended family when her mother joined the company many years ago.  She practiced law for six years in Los Angeles.  Now the mother of two lively children, Kate has co-authored several LinguiSystems products with Carolyn, including Spotlight on Grammar and Spotlight on Vocabulary.


No-Glamour Idioms was developed for students in grade six and above who have trouble understanding idiomatic expressions.  The lessons are especially effective for students with Asperger's syndrome, highfunctioning autism, learning disabilities, and limited English proficiency.  The readability of the stories is controlled at or below grade 6.0.  The tasks require minimal writing and emphasize determining meaning via context clues.

For the purposes of this book, we have taken a broad view of the term idiom.  We have not differentiated among idioms, sayings, slang, idiomatic words, metaphors, or analogies since almost all of them are figurative language involving abstract concepts or relationships.

Understanding idioms requires mental imagery, a developmental skill associated with comprehension (Nippold & Duthie, 2003).  Early elementary students generally have a partial, concrete understanding of idioms (Nippold et al., 2003).  They usually learn one idiom at a time, generally in context (Nippold & Martin, 1989; Vicker, 2007).  Idioms with a close relationship between their literal and figurative meanings are easier to understand than more abstract, figurative idioms:

  • close relationship: Give me a hand with these dishes.
  • abstract relationship: I've got to hand it to him for earning his degree.

Idiom skills usually progress rapidly during early elementary years and are firmly in place by age ten (Wallach & Miller, 1988).  By eighth grade, over 20% of teachers' comments contain idioms (Lazar, Warr-Leeper, Nicholson, & Johnson, 1989).

Much of the colorful nature of English comes from our liberal use of idiomatic expressions.  Almost two-thirds of English includes idiomatic language (Arnold & Hornett, 1990).  Figurative expressions are so prevalent in everyday language that we are usually unaware of the true extent of the metaphorical nature of language (Boers, 2000).  New idiomatic expressions pop up overnight, largely thanks to the Internet and mass media.  It's not hard to keep up with this innovation if you have intact language skills, but if you have trouble interpreting figurative language, conversation and text can easily throw you for a loop.

People with language and/or autism spectrum disorders frequently have trouble understanding abstract or figurative language, even as adults (Palmer & Brooks, 2004; Wallach et al., 1988; Wiig & Semel, 1984).  They may understand the concrete meaning of come unglued, as in The paper butterfly wings came unglued, but not the abstract use, as in Deena came unglued when I read her diary.  Since idiomatic expressions play such a large role in English, people who don't understand such language are often left in the dark.  They may interpret idioms literally, become confused, or simply ignore the expressions, missing the colorful information they convey about emotions, opinions, and other specifics.  We can help such people understand others and communicate more effectively by learning to interpret and use common idioms—by teaching them how to recognize and think about any expression that doesn't make sense literally.

No-Glamour Idioms presents over 770 current English idiomatic expressions in context, the way they are most likely to stick with students (Nippold et al., 1989; Vicker, 2007).  The lesson stories include minimal use of idiomatic expressions beyond the ten targeted per lesson.  Each lesson teaches ten idioms in a sequence of tasks that demand increased mastery of these figurative expressions.  This lesson structure emphasizes using context and inductive reasoning to interpret idioms.  Other teaching strategies include paraphrasing, connecting to personal experience, and comparing and contrasting idioms.  Once students master the skills to analyze idiomatic expressions, we hope they will apply these skills independently whenever they encounter idioms that don't make sense at first blush.

The lessons are sequenced in a general order of complexity or sophistication of both idiom and story content, but you can choose any lesson to meet your students' needs or interests.  For your reference, there are both an alphabetical list of idioms and a list of idioms for each story.  Use the progress log to track a student's performance by task across lessons.

No-Glamour Idioms does not include the origin or history of the idioms.  Some students find such information distracting, and the focus here is on current usage in context regardless of evolution of each idiom.  If you or your students are curious about the history of a certain idiom, consult the Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms or Google the idiom online.

A more effective strategy for teaching a new idiom is to talk about why an idiom works well.  For example, a bitter pill to swallow means something hard to accept with the implication that it's for your own good or unavoidable.  This idiom works because you can imagine not wanting to swallow medicine that tastes terrible, but you would do it if you needed the medicine to get well.  Examples of a bitter pill to swallow include a serious physical injury, increased taxes, and the loss of a dear friend or loved one.


Guidelines for Presenting the Lessons
Present the lessons in No-Glamour Idioms to groups of students or individual students.  Group presentation is preferable because each person brings a unique history and perspective to discussions, and the more times students hear and use an idiom, the more likely they will master it.

Humor is a great motivator for learning, and idiomatic expressions are fertile ground for humor based on ambiguity, double meanings, misinterpretations, etc.  Take full advantage of the natural humor bound to spice up your lessons!

You may want to evaluate a student's general grasp of idiomatic expressions before presenting the lessons.  Use Previewing Readiness for Idiom Lessons to determine how much support the student will need to complete the tasks.  As an alternative, select any lesson from the book and have the student complete it while you offer only as much help as is required.

The recommended teaching sequence for the tasks in No-Glamour Idioms lessons is described on the following pages.  Adapt and embellish these tasks as you see fit to meet your students' needs.


Task A: Story
Begin each lesson by reading the story with your students twice.  During the first read, stop to talk about each boldfaced idiom:

  • Have you heard this expression before?  (Encourage examples; provide your own, if necessary.)
  • What picture do you see in your mind when you hear this expression?  (Encourage a literal image where possible as well as a more abstract image.  For example, for eats like a pig, have your students imagine a pig eating.  Then refer to the context of the idiom and ask students to change their mental picture to what it means in the story.)
  • What is another way to say the same thing?  (Accept other idiomatic expressions as well as non-idiomatic paraphrases or explanations.)

Then reread the passage, pausing only as necessary to clarify confusion.  Present the comprehension questions to encourage further discussion of several target idioms within the lesson.

Next have your students work in pairs or small groups to rewrite the lesson story, paraphrasing or replacing the original idioms. Share these rewrites with the entire group.


Task B: Idioms and Example Sentences
The lesson idioms are listed alphabetically.  Present the idioms and examples orally, encouraging your students to paraphrase the definitions and provide additional example sentences orally or in writing.


Task C: Explaining Idioms
Now that your students have a basic understanding of the ten idioms, they will answer a question about each one.  The questions generally require only a one-word answer, but the meat of this task is asking students to explain or justify their answers.  Here are some examples:

  • If you pull your hair out over performing a solo, will you be bald?
  • If you throw yourself together, do you look your best?
  • If it's your turn to pay for something, do you have to cough up the money?

Task D: Matching Idioms and Definitions
Students match the idioms and their definitions without the benefit of a story or sentence context.  In some cases, idioms within a lesson may mean almost the same thing.  Such lessons include the sentence More than one meaning may match an idiom in the student directions.  Help your students compare and contrast idioms that seem closely related.


Task E: Related Idioms
Idioms related to the ten included in the lesson are listed for enrichment.  Encourage students to guess what these idioms mean.  They can seek definitions online or in a handbook that lists idioms (resources listed in References).  Here are some ways your students can practice using these idioms:

  • Write sentences using a given number of these idioms.
  • Write brief scripts that include several of the idioms.  Perform the scripts in front of an audience.
  • Ask your students to write their own questions patterned after the questions in Task C: Explaining Idioms.  Have them take turns asking and answering these questions.

Here are some additional ways to boost your students' facility with idioms:

  • Have your students illustrate both the literal and the figurative meanings of idioms.
  • Copy the idiom log to help your students keep a log of idioms they encounter.  Completing this log will help them understand and remember idioms.  Store the pages in a folder or a binder for students to read through periodically.
  • Notice idiomatic expressions your students hear in school announcements or elsewhere at school.  Some students enjoy developing a book of slang used by their peers (censored, of course!).  For example, what slang expressions can they think of about eating/meals, money, or school topics?
  • Have your students practice what to say when they encounter an expression and realize they don't understand how it's being used.  For example, they could say, "I'm not sure I understand.  What do you mean by 'pull your hair out'?"
  • Show news articles, ads, or other everyday reading material on an overhead.  Help your students pick out idioms and explain what they mean, based on the context of the passage.
  • Play sections of a movie on a DVD; pause after idiomatic expressions and ask your students to interpret them, based on the context of the movie.
  • Read stories in class and help your students note and explain idioms.  Tall tales are a great resource for talking about literal and figurative meanings.

We hope you and your students jump at the chance to learn and play with idioms.  Go for it!


Carolyn and Kate