30 Teaching Idioms: Educational Phrases You Should Learn and Use

Teaching idioms can be a delightful adventure in language learning, adding color and vibrancy to the way we express ourselves. Idioms, by their very nature, encapsulate cultural wisdom and storytelling, allowing us to share ideas and emotions in a way that literal language often fails to capture. As educators, we embrace the challenge of unpacking these quirky phrases for our learners, knowing that their mastery is a significant milestone in achieving fluency in a language.

What are Teaching Idioms?

Idioms are expressions with meanings that cannot be deduced from the literal definitions of the words that make them up. When we say teaching idioms, we’re referring to the process of helping students understand these phrases so that they can comprehend and use them effectively in conversation and writing.

We use varied techniques to introduce students to idioms:

  • Visualization: Creating imagery or symbols that relate to the idiom’s meaning.
  • Contextual Learning: Using idioms in sentences to convey their meanings clearly.
  • Interactive Activities: Employing games such as hangman or charades to make learning engaging.

30 Teaching Idioms: Educational Phrases You Should Learn and Use Pin


List of Teaching Idioms

Back to the drawing board Start from scratch
Learn the ropes In the deep end
Hit the books Learn by heart
Cover all the bases A for effort
Get the hang of it Show the ropes
Burn the midnight oil Cut class
The old school Teacher’s pet
Book smart On the ball
Raise the bar Make the grade
Pass with flying colors Brainstorm
Think outside the box Learn the ins and outs
A quick study Set the pace
Go the extra mile Hit the nail on the head
Cross that bridge when you come to it The cream of the crop
Not rocket science Break new ground

Teaching Idioms with Meaning, Usage and Example

For Beginners

Back to the drawing board

    • Meaning: To start over because the current attempt failed.
    • Usage in context: When a plan or project fails, and you have to begin all over again.
    • Example: After the prototype failed to function, we had to go back to the drawing board.

Learn the ropes

    • Meaning: To learn the basics of something.
    • Usage in context: When someone is new to a task or job and is in the process of understanding how to do it.
    • Example: It took me a few weeks to learn the ropes at my new job, but now I’m quite confident.

Hit the books

    • Meaning: To begin studying seriously.
    • Usage in context: When a person needs to study, especially before an exam or test.
    • Example: With finals approaching, I need to hit the books this weekend.

Cover all the bases

    • Meaning: To consider, prepare for, or deal with every aspect or part of a situation.
    • Usage in context: Ensuring that all parts of a project or plan have been taken into account.
    • Example: Before we launch the product, we must cover all the bases to ensure success.

Get the hang of it

    • Meaning: To learn how to do something competently or well.
    • Usage in context: When someone is becoming more familiar with a task or activity.
    • Example: I struggled with the new software at first, but now I’ve got the hang of it.

Start from scratch

    • Meaning: To begin from the beginning, without using anything that already exists.
    • Usage in context: When creating something new without any prior groundwork.
    • Example: We lost all our data and had to start from scratch.

In the deep end

    • Meaning: To start a new and difficult activity without being prepared for it.
    • Usage in context: When someone begins a challenging task without any easing into it.
    • Example: They threw me in at the deep end by giving me the responsibility for the entire department.

Learn by heart

    • Meaning: To memorize something completely.
    • Usage in context: When someone needs to remember information so well that they can recall it without any help.
    • Example: I learned by heart all the poems we needed for literature class.

A for effort

    • Meaning: Recognition for trying hard to do something, even if the result isn’t successful or perfect.
    • Usage in context: When someone has made a commendable effort, though they may not have achieved their goal.
    • Example: You didn’t win the race, but you get an A for effort for your determination.

Show the ropes

    • Meaning: To teach someone how to do a specific job or task.
    • Usage in context: Similar to “learn the ropes,” but from the perspective of the person providing the guidance.
    • Example: My coworker took the time to show me the ropes during my first week on the job.

For Intermediate Students

Burn the midnight oil

    • Meaning: To work late into the night or early morning hours.
    • Usage in context: When someone is working hard, especially studying, late at night.
    • Example: I had to burn the midnight oil to finish the report by the deadline.

Cut class

    • Meaning: To intentionally miss a class without a valid reason.
    • Usage in context: When a student decides not to attend a scheduled class.
    • Example: Some students decided to cut class and go to the beach instead.

The old school

    • Meaning: A reference to ideas, methods, or styles that were popular in the past.
    • Usage in context: When talking about traditional or conservative ways of doing something.
    • Example: My grandfather is the old-school type and believes in hard work and discipline.

Teacher’s pet

    • Meaning: A student who is particularly favored by the teacher.
    • Usage in context: When a student often receives special treatment or attention from the teacher. 
    • Example: She always has the best grades and volunteers for everything; it’s no wonder she’s the teacher’s pet.

Book smart

    • Meaning: Having knowledge acquired from books and formal education, rather than practical experience.
    • Usage in context: When someone is well-learned through study but may lack real-world experience.
    • Example: He’s certainly book smart, but he struggles to apply his knowledge in everyday situations.

On the ball

    • Meaning: Being alert, competent, or efficient.
    • Usage in context: When someone is quick to understand and react to things.
    • Example: Our new team member is really on the ball; she’s already contributed several great ideas.

Raise the bar

    • Meaning: To set a higher standard or level of expectation.
    • Usage in context: When someone or something improves to the extent that others are now expected to perform at a higher level.
    • Example: This year’s group of students has raised the bar for future classes.

Make the grade

    • Meaning: To reach the necessary standard; to succeed.
    • Usage in context: When someone has met the requirements or fulfilled expectations.
    • Example: I studied hard and I’m confident I’ll make the grade on my final exams.

Pass with flying colors

    • Meaning: To succeed at something easily or with a notably high score.
    • Usage in context: When someone does exceptionally well in a test or challenge.
    • Example: She passed the certification exam with flying colors.


    • Meaning: To generate ideas spontaneously in a group setting.
    • Usage in context: When a group of people come together to creatively solve a problem or come up with new ideas.
    • Example: Let’s brainstorm some ideas for the new marketing campaign.

For Advanced Students

Think outside the box

    • Meaning: To think creatively, not limited by conventional ideas.
    • Usage in context: When someone comes up with an innovative or unconventional solution.
    • Example: To solve this problem, we need to think outside the box.

Learn the ins and outs

    • Meaning: To learn all the details and nuances of something.
    • Usage in context: When someone becomes very familiar with how something works or is done.
    • Example: It took me a few months, but I’ve finally learned the ins and outs of the new software.

A quick study

    • Meaning: Someone who is able to learn and understand things fast.
    • Usage in context: When a person can pick up new skills or information rapidly.
    • Example: She’s a quick study; she mastered the piano in less than a year.

Set the pace

    • Meaning: To establish a standard or speed for others to follow.
    • Usage in context: When someone leads by example, especially in terms of productivity or speed.
    • Example: The leading runner is setting the pace for the others in the marathon.

Go the extra mile

    • Meaning: To do more than what is expected or required.
    • Usage in context: When someone puts in additional effort to ensure something is done exceptionally well.
    • Example: She always goes the extra mile to make sure her customers are happy.

Hit the nail on the head

    • Meaning: To describe exactly the main issue, problem, or topic.
    • Usage in context: When someone’s comments or actions are exactly right.
    • Example: You hit the nail on the head when you said the issue was the lack of communication.

Cross that bridge when you come to it

    • Meaning: To deal with a problem when it occurs, not before.
    • Usage in context: When someone suggests not worrying about a potential issue until it happens.
    • Example: We don’t know if the client will change their requirements, so let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

The cream of the crop

    • Meaning: The best of all.
    • Usage in context: When referring to the highest quality or top performers in a group.
    • Example: The students in this advanced class are truly the cream of the crop at our school.

Not rocket science

    • Meaning: Not very complicated or difficult to understand.
    • Usage in context: When someone wants to say that a task or concept is relatively easy to grasp.
    • Example: Don’t worry about the assembly; it’s not rocket science, just follow the instructions.

Break new ground

    • Meaning: To do something innovative that has not been done before; to pioneer.
    • Usage in context: When someone is undertaking a project or research that is original and has not been explored previously.
    • Example: With their latest research, the team is breaking new ground in the field of renewable energy.

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Last Updated on December 6, 2023

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