As always, when providing idiom intervention for kids, make sure to start with explicit and clear instruction. For a quick review on what an idiom is, just remember that “idiom” is an expression or common saying that has its own meaning. Idioms are a type of figurative language, which is the opposite of literal language.
Some common American English idiom examples for kids include:
When you are familiar with idioms, you actually have to work to think about what the literal meaning might be, and it’s often hilarious!
The big question is, should we even be working on idioms in speech therapy?
Yes! The ability to understand idioms is closely linked to academics and reading comprehension. And while improvements can be made with classroom intervention, results are better with one-on-one intervention (I guess the jury is still out on small groups!).
In order to understand idioms, several things must happen:
Have you ever looked at idioms from other countries? My USA readers might not be familiar with some of these international idioms:
Any guesses what any of those mean?
When we haven’t been exposed to an idiom, we don’t know what it means. There might even be older American idioms that are no longer in use that our young students won’t know. Sometimes older standardized tests or therapy materials will have older idioms that I’ve never even heard before!
So, sometimes idiom confusion comes from lack of exposure. We need to make sure that difficulty with idiom comprehension is not just stemming from a language difference, like coming from a different country, or being part of a different generation.
Now, what if I give you a sentence with those idioms used in context:
Given a little context, are those idioms a little easier to figure out? If they are, you probably don’t have a language disorder!
Students who have language disorders will struggle to separate the figurative meaning with the literal meaning. If you are getting answers like these:
Then you have a student who could use some intervention in the areas of figurative language and idioms.
In this way, teaching idioms will be similar to teaching vocabulary or multiple meaning words. Looking at an idiom out of context is like looking at a word on its own. All you can do is look up the definition if you don’t know it.
With vocabulary words in the classroom or within stories or texts, we can use context clues as one way to help figure out word meanings.
Now, context clues will not always help you out. Sometimes sentences don’t offer a lot of clues. As an adult with a reasonable vocabulary, it might seem obvious to you what the word means, but that might be just because you are already familiar with the word. (Try using context clues the next time you are reading and come across a word you don’t know. Don’t just skip it! Try to define it and check your answer!)
But, context clues are one of several vocabulary strategies that can be similarly used to target idioms.
After you explicitly teach what an idiom is, provide examples in context. Look for idioms used in a scenario or find stories that set the stage. Then talk it through with your student. If needed, you can model the thought process by verbalizing your thoughts first. Practice looking for the non-literal meaning.
Check out these Speechy Musings products that include materials for idiom intervention:
Figurative Language Stories – FREEBIE that includes short stories specifically designed to target metaphors, idioms, and similes.
These three language theme packs also include thematic idioms! Perfect for incorporating context into your lessons:
Tackle figurative language, including idioms, PLUS just about every other language therapy goal on your caseload with these super quick one sheet language lessons!:
For a quick and simple visual to help teach and reinforce the concept of idioms, make sure to check out Speech Therapy Visuals for Language Skills and Strategies.
No sweat, right? Keep your chin up and tackle those idiom goals!