Idioms are an integral part of any language; additionally, they lend the language its character and richness. Idioms make the speaker sound more fluent, natural, and of course more interesting. Idioms are also able to voice a thought much more succinctly and therefore cut down on verbiage. For instance, instead of explaining at length that you think what someone else has is much more appealing than what you have, but you are fully aware deep inside that you are actually downplaying all the positives on your side, you can express the thought in a nutshell (!) by saying: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence; or if you want to be more crisp: The grass is always greener.
Our school textbooks are generously strewn with idioms so that students are introduced to them in print, savour them, and then internalize them so that they become a part of their own language system. Unfortunately, most students continue to graduate to the next few classes without the slightest clue of what an idiom is since they only have a blurred idea of the meaning and fumble through the idiom exercises, emerging none the wiser!
How do we warrant that students pause to reflect on the meaning of idioms so that they can learn to use them in their speech and writing in order to make the writing and their conversation richer and more engaging?
http://www.myenglishteacher.eu/blog/colour-idioms-list-and-their-meanings/ is a very educative site that lists 90 colour idioms, explaining them and also using them in sentences so that the reader has a clearer idea of the meaning and the usage. Teachers could use the site to help students expand their vocabulary, and students too could actually do this work independently since the site is self-explanatory. But then, if wishes were horses….and the rulers of teachers were magic wands! As teachers, we know that we need to step in to design a method to encourage and assist students master the idioms and use them actively in everyday speech and writing.
Let’s have a look at some of the colour idioms listed on the website. A student who reads the sentence, The thief was caught red handed may figure out that the thief indeed did not escape, but the student may not necessarily understand that the thief was caught while committing the crime. Another sentence like Charlie is grandma’s blue-eyed boy may be interpreted to be a grandson with blue eyes (and that could also be true as far as the story or the lesson is concerned!). Similarly, does the sentence I was in the dark about the surprise party mean that I was in a place where there was no sunlight or light? What does the child decipher from such sentences? Does the child just stumble over them without understanding the full import and in the process ignore what could be an opportunity to enrich his/her language? Regrettably, this is what happens in most cases. Let us see if it is possible to take the students through idioms in a guided manner.
Have a look at the following 13 pictures and think of what colour idioms they could be associated with. They may not all be easy, but if the students have already been introduced to the idioms, it should not prove to be a cumbersome or an impossible task.
The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Hyderabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.