Originally Sent: 10/10/2013

HSLDA Homeschooling a Struggling Learner

October 10, 2013


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Idioms Abound—We are Bound to Hear Them

by Betty T. Statnick, M. Ed.
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

You believe if you play your cards right, this current school year should be a piece of cake. You definitely weren’t dragging your heels or falling down on the job when you went to homeschool conferences this past summer. You drank in the information and afterward picked the brains of the presenters and attendees in those conference sessions. You aimed to get your ducks in a row.

About the Author

Learn more about our special needs consultants.Learn more about our special needs consultants. Betty T. Statnick

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Does it sound to you like I’m off my rocker, or do you suspect that there is a method to my madness? I do have something “up my sleeve.” Does the word “idiom” pop into your mind? My aim in this newsletter is to provide some helps (idioms-wise) for a wide variety of readers to use to “spice up” their homeschooling.

Turn of Phrase

What are idioms? Idioms are expressions that mean something different from what the words might seem to actually say. For example, “hold your tongue” is an idiom that means be quiet.

In the book It’s Just An Expression! Using Everyday Idioms, author Jo Ann Gordon defines idiom as “a unique way that words are used in a particular culture and language.” She further explains that “idioms are a staple element of the English language, and it is crucial that students with reading delays and second language learners have the opportunity to identify and understand how to use common idioms.”

She designed the 12 lessons in her 61-page book “to help special needs students identify, understand, and use everyday idioms.” She includes a variety of activities (matching exercises, choosing the word from a word bank to complete the sentence, selecting the picture which describes) to help “cement” the meaning of the idiom. Her book is available from Academic Therapy Publications.

In her book, The New Language of Toys—Teaching Communication Skills to Children with Special Needs, author Sue Schwartz, Ph.D., states (page 147—for ages 48 to 60 months), “While you are continuing to bolster your child’s receptive language skills, you may want to add some idiomatic expressions.” She includes the examples, “It’s raining cats and dogs today”; “My eyes are bigger than my stomach”; “You look cool as a cucumber.”

I am confident that all types of learners (including the gifted and gifted with learning difficulties) and their teachers would profit from instruction about idioms. So, I want to expose you to some other excellent resources I have been devouring:


1. Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms (1996) ISBN 0-590-38157-1 by Marvin Terban

This book of more than 600 idioms you might hear or read in English every day begins with this answer to the question, “What are Idioms?”

“Idioms appear in every language, and English has thousands of them. They are often confusing because the meaning of the whole group of words taken together has little, often nothing, to do with the meanings of the words taken one by one. For instance, ‘to let the cat out of the bag’ means to reveal a secret. In order to understand a language, you must know what the idioms in that language mean. If you try to figure out the meaning of an idiom literally, word by word, you will get befuddled. You have to know its hidden meaning.” The idioms in his book are arranged in alphabetical order according to a key word in the idiom.

2. The Expressionary—The Ultimate Companion for Idioms, Everyday Phrases, and Proverbs (Second Edition, 2008) ISBN 978-1-57503-140-8 by Mark Schmidt

The introduction to this 1-inch thick, 8-and-a-half-by-11-inch book states its purpose: “The Expressionary was created as a reference for individuals wishing to improve their understanding of American expressions. The English language includes thousands of phrases that often cause confusion and misunderstandings. Idioms such as ‘Cat got your tongue?’ or ‘The tail is wagging the dog,’ cannot be understood if only the literal meaning is considered.”

The entries in The Expressionary are entered in alphabetical order and are organized by focus word. For example, entries containing the word “horse” are listed under the focus word “horse.”

I am especially pleased with author Schmidt’s recognition that definitions in published dictionaries tend to be too complex for many individuals to understand. Therefore, The Expressionary “emphasizes simple definitions containing words that are used with high frequency in the language” (easily recognizable vocabulary) and it avoids use of “academically challenging definitions.”

Each bolded entry is listed according to the key word. Next, the word is given in a phrase and also in the context of a sentence. Immediately following that sentence there is information in parenthesis giving the mnm (meaning in the message or message in the meaning). Here is an example:

HUNGRY—“as hungry as a bear”

Heat up the soup quickly because he’s “as hungry as a bear.” (mnm: starving for something to eat)

3. Expression Connection—A Resource for Using The Expressionary to Teach Idioms and Other Common Expressions by Mark Schmidt.

There are worksheets/activities in this 111-page spiral-bound book.

4. Idiom Delight by John Arena

This is a 64-page workbook with six lessons dealing with common idiomatic expressions.

5. No Glamour Idioms by Carolyn LoGiudice and Kate LaQuay

This 275-page workbook contains over 700 idioms with activities for ages 11 to 18.

6. Spotlight on Figurative Language by Linda Bowers and Paul F. Johnson

Idiomatic Memory

When I think of idioms, I hearken back to something which happened when I was a teen. Our family lived in a rural area, and there was a dirt road which ran parallel to the front of our house. Just before dark one evening, a car came speeding down that dirt road. My father shouted, “Look at that crazy critter burning up the road!”

The next morning my preschool-age brother, Rich, could hardly wait to get outside to see the burned up road. As you would expect of a child his age, he was taking our dad’s words literally. We had to explain to Rich that what dad actually meant was that the driver was going much faster than he should have been traveling.

Be sure to grant yourself permission to enjoy your children now and “their read” on things/situations. In years to come, you and they probably will have many chuckles as you recall specific episodes.

So blow away the cobwebs and have a ball with your children this year teaching idioms.

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