Idiomatic expressions revision games

This year I am teaching a C1 course to a group of teens. Our coursebook is packed with idiomatic expressions (and phrasal verbs!) which pose a considerable challenge for my students who are very fluent and fairly accurate yet shy away from any figurative language. Here are 3 ideas for revision games I have been using to help them consolidate their knowledge of various idioms.

#1 Two-way paraphrasing game

Before you play

This game requires zero prep other than getting some strips of different coloured paper. Alternatively, prepare strips of scrap papers with numbers 1,2,3 on them.

How to play

This activity works best over a course of two or even three lessons.

At the end of the lesson where you first tackled some idiomatic expressions give your students small pieces of (coloured) paper  and ask them to write down a sentence containing any expression from the lesson.  They don’t have to sign their sentences. Before they leave, make sure to go over every sentence and correct any possible mistakes. Collect the papers, keep them safe until the next time you see them.

At the beginning of the subsequent lesson, distribute the sentences from the last lesson making sure everybody gets somebody else’s sentence. Then, distribute different coloured pieces of paper and tell your students they need to paraphrase the sentences from their last lesson so that they do not contain any idiomatic expressions.  They write new sentences on new pieces of paper. Monitor and give hints if necessary.

At this point, you might collect the new sentences and keep them until the next lesson or continue with the activity right away.

Collect the new sentences. Distribute yet another hand of smaller pieces of paper (preferably yet another colour). Shuffle the sentences your students have just written and deal the pieces of paper again. Now, they need to paraphrase their given sentence so that it again contains the target idiomatic expressions.

Once round three is complete, shuffle all three sets of sentences and place it in a pile on one of the desks. Ask your students to divide the cards into matching sets of three. Together, compare the sentences and see how they might be improved. At the end of this activity, you should come up with sets like the ones below.


Why play it

This game might not be the fastest but the fact it takes time helps students engage with the language in a calmer more deliberate manner. It is suitable for both more and less creative learners and gives them a certain amount of freedom when it comes to wording.

#2 Visual associations game

I am a big fan of less than obvious visual associations and I have noticed that trying to decipher the meaning of such images reinforces my students’ memory and motivates them to dig deeper.

Before you play

Prepare a ppt presentation. Choose one image to represent one idiomatic expression. In this ppt students are supposed to revise idiomatic expressions containing names of body parts. I intended to play three rounds of the game, so each set of images repeats three times. The images come in a different order in each set. Sets are separated by blank slides.

How to play

Students play in small teams or individually.

Round 1: you show each slide, they write down the expression it represents

Round 2: you show the same slides (but in a different order) and nominate students to say the expression out loud. In order to do so, they need to scan their list and find the matching idiom. It is also a good time to correct whatever the students got wrong.

Round 3: you show the same slides in yet another order and students need to come up with full sentences using the expressions. Instead of you choosing the learners they might nominate each other / you might keep score / you might decide which tense they need to use on top of the target vocab to make it even more difficult.

Why play it

It is a fun and quite fast-paced game that activates students’ knowledge and engages them on a couple of different levels. Changing the order of images adds a twist and increases the difficulty. Stronger students will thrive while the weaker ones might lean on their teammates.


#3 Grab the pen game

I learned about the premise of this game from Kasia Piotrowska’s blog. I love how dynamic and fun it is so I wanted to use it with my teens as well. Kasia mentions it as a warmer or a filler, yet for me, it turned into a solid 40-minute activity which other than aimed at revision vocabulary helped us clear a lot of doubts, work on using the expressions in practice and even revealed some verb form issues.

Before you play

Prepare around 10 sentences which do not contain target expressions yet convey the same meaning;

target expression: to be down in the mouth

sentence: Jesse looked really sad when I last saw him. I hope he is OK.

Try to keep your sentences concise and clear. Write them on a piece of paper and don’t show them to your students.

How to play

Divide your students into two teams. Put a desk in the middle of the room, add two chairs facing each other on each side of the deks, place a marker standing up on the desk. Ask one student from each team to come and take a seat.

Students’ task is to listen to the sentence you read out loud (preferably twice) and paraphrase it using the key idiomatic expression they think fits best to keep the meaning the same. They signal they are ready to answer by snatching the marker from the desk. It is important for them to keep their hands away from the desk while you are reading the sentence and only try to grab the marker when you say GO.

In order to avoid a situation when somebody snatched the pen without having a clue how to paraphrase the sentence, tell your learners that if a student who has taken the pen doesn’t attempt to paraphrase the sentence within the first 5 seconds, they forfeit the round. If they paraphrase it incorrectly you might give them a chance to confer with their team. If the answer they provide afterward is still wrong, the other team get a chance.

Why play it

The game rewards speed and preparedness but also gives a chance at collaboration. It is quite hard given the students don’t see the sentences they have to paraphrase so the challenge is considerable. Given a lot of idiomatic expressions contain verbs, students get an opportunity to practice verb forms and learn to pay attention to detail, just like they have to in the exam.

If you are interested in some more revision games, check out my phrasal verbs games post and my word formation games post


  1. Hello
    I have read your funny way of teaching but it seems to me that this way of teaching idioms is quite difficult it doesn’t work with non native speaker who don’t have a rich store of idioms. May be giving them jumbled words to find an idiom and keep repeating it for two weeks .it works quite well. Thank you and have a great day.

    • Hi Figi,
      I agree that for lower level students this challenge might be too overwhelming. I designed these games with C1 students in mind and it’s absolutely within their reach.
      Have a great day too!

  2. Hi, Gosia!
    I love your ideas in this post. I´m certainly going to try them not only with my C1 students, but also with my B2 ones. I`m sure they´ll enjoy the games and profit from them. Thanks a lot and get warm regards from Argentina!

    • Hi Miriam! I’m so happy you like these ideas and want to try them out with your students. I’d love to find out how they went so please, feel free to drop a comment here or email me at gosia@lessonplansdigger.com
      Take care and good luck with your classes.

  3. This reminds me of the cutest video I found on Idioms called “Confessions of an Idiom” – if you haven’t shown it to your class yet, they might enjoy it. I totally forgot about it until now. thanks for the reminder!

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