Ten Idioms from Cartoons

As a part of my effort to use interesting ways for teaching English, I’ve decided to gather a collection of pictures from popular cartoons which are perfect for teaching idioms in English. You can use these images for practicing speaking and vocabulary.

Every image represents one idiom. The focus of you lesson would be to explore the meaning of the idiom and to analyze the image, and figure out how to relate the image to the idiom. Along the way, you could:

  • Introduce other idioms
  • Talk about the cartoon
  • Talk about situations when students were in the similar situation

Exercise: Each image illustrates one idiom. There are three possible answers below each image, and the goal is find the correct one. (Correct answers are in the end of this article).

1. Against the clock


a) In a great hurry to get something done before a particular time.
b) Just in time, at the last possible moment.
c) Not worrying about the time.

2. Better late than never


a) You should not be late.
b) It is better to do something after it was supposed to have been done than not to do it at all.
c) It is better not to do anything if you are going to be late.

3. Have eyes in the back of your head


a) To wear glasses.
b) To know everything that is happening around you.
c) To have a friend behind your back.

4. Tip of the iceberg


a) The part of a problem that can be seen, with far more serious problems lying underneath.
b) Uncertain situation that could cause harm.
c) Almost doing or experiencing something.

5. Keep an eye on


a) To be enthusiastic about someone or something.
b) To be responsible for someone or something.
c) To watch or give your attention to someone or something.

6. It’s raining cats and dogs


a) To fall or drop down on someone or something like rain.
b) To rain very heavily.
c) Doing something that spoils someone’s plans.

7. Smell something fishy


a) To seem suspicious.
b) To seem to easy to be true.
c) To have a strong or unpleasant smell.

8. Miss the boat


a) Not being able to do something because it’s too difficult.
b) To be just in time, at the last possible moment.
c) To be too late to get something that you want.

9. Not see the forest for the trees


a) To pay too much attention to details and not understand the general situation.
b) To do everything others are doing.
c) To be lost and unable to find the way.

10. Sleep on it


a) To sleep until you’re fully relaxed.
b) To wait before making an important decision.
c) To sleep despite the problems and worries you might have.


1. a            2. b          3. b            4. a             5. c
6.b            7. a           8. c            9. a             10. b

Teaching English with Music (Bleeding Love)

Here is a song for reviewing vocabulary and the Past Simple form of the verbs. The text is not demanding, so you can use it with pre-intermediate students. If you use this song for teaching intermediate students, you should include additional questions in order to analyze the lyrics, and thus encourage students to practice speaking.

English music lesson: Leona Lewis “Bleeding Love”

Closed off from _______ music_English_lesson

I didn’t need the _______

_______ or twice was enough

And it was all in _______

_______ starts to pass

Before you know it you’re frozen


But something happened

For the very first time with you

My _______ melts into the ground

Found something _______

And everyone’s looking round

Thinking I’m going crazy


But I don’t care what they / day say

I’m in love wit / with you

They try to / too pull me away

But they don’t know the truth / true

Mine / My heart’s crippled by the vein

That I keep on closing

You cut me open and I


Keep bleeding

Keep, keep bleeding love

I keep bleeding

I keep, keep bleeding love

Keep bleeding

Keep, keep bleeding love

You cut me open


Trying hard not to hear music_English_lesson

But they talk so loud

Their piercing sounds fill my ears

Try to fill me with doubt

Yet I know that the goal

Is to keep me from falling


But nothing’s _______than the rush that comes with your embrace

And in this world of _______

I see your face

Yet _______ around me

Thinks that I’m going crazy, maybe, maybe


___ They try to pull me away music_English_lesson3

___ My heart’s crippled by the vein

___ But I don’t care what they say

___ But they don’t know the truth

___ You cut me open and I

___ I’m in love with you

___ That I keep on closing

Keep bleeding…


And it’s draining all of me

Oh they find it hard to believe

I’ll be wearing these scars

For everyone to see

Keep bleeding…


Additional exercise: Analyze (and / or translate) the expressions and try to use them in a sentence:

  • Closed off
  • In vain
  • Pull away
  • Keep from

Seven Songs for Teaching Past Simple

I have created a list of songs, which are perfect for teaching Past Simple tense in English. All of the songs are relatively new and popular, so they would especially be suitable for teaching teenagers. While the primary goal would be teaching Past Simple, you can always add a few more exercises in order to work on vocabulary or grammar.

Coldplay – Paradise
Past Simple is often used for retelling the events that happened in the past. This song is perfect for illustrating this usage. The verbs to teach: was, expected, flew, ran, closed, etc.

Passenger – The Wrong Direction
Seeing “When I was a kid…” at the beginning of the song lyrics, you know there has to be some Past Simple in there. Some of the verbs to teach in Past Simple: believed, hid, thought, broke, made, etc. This song can also be used for teaching would (I’d love, I’d jump) as well as nouns ending in –tion (inspection, direction, selection, connection, etc.).

Katy Perry – The One That Got Away
Apart from teaching Past Simple, with verbs met, got, planned, had, made, said, etc. you can also teach would for talking about future from a time in the past (I would make you stay, I would be your girl).

Torn – Natalie Imbruglia
This song is great for teaching Past Simple, as it has a lot of verbs, both regular and irregular (thought, saw, showed, came, adored, changed, had, crawled, etc.). In the additional exercises you can focus on describing how people feel (I am ashamed, I’m torn, I’m all out of faith, etc.).

Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know
Your students will definitely know this song, having in mind how popular it was for a while. Start teaching Past Simple with the verbs said, felt, found, happened, etc. After that, you can teach used to for talking about things that happened in the past. In addition, compare used to with Past Simple for talking about past.

OneRepublic – Something I Need
A very nice song with lots of different verb forms. While you can start the lesson with Past Simple and verbs such as had, woke, stayed, could, etc. you can use other verbs to compare Past Simple with other tenses in English.

The Fray – Over My Head (Cable Car)
This song is suitable for teaching Past Simple (knew, needed, wanted, etc.). Additionally, you can teach prepositions (down, around, in, over, on, etc.).

Besides teaching vocabulary and grammar, songs are good starting point if you want to engage your students in a conversation. Therefore, after the listening activity, you can come up with a list of questions to start the conversation in your class. Some general questions are: What is the song about? What did you think about the song? Does the singer speak about personal experience? On the other hand, the song can only be an introduction, so for example, if you want to encourage students to use would in their answers, Katy Perry’s song is a perfect way to do so.

Teaching Pronouns in English

Teaching English using music is a great way to engage your students, especially if you use songs they like. In one of my lessons,  I have used Taylor Swift’s song “Ours” to teach pronouns in English. However, I’ve also added some vocabulary and grammar exercises related to the text.

Here are the instructions on how to use this lesson in class:

1. Listen to the song without the text.

2. Listen to the song again. This time students have the text with missing words. The goal is to fill in the missing words. Have in mind that all of the missing words are in fact pronouns (you can leave out some other words as well).

Ours – Taylor Swift

Elevator buttons and morning air
Strangers’ silence makes _______ wanna take the stairs
If you were here we’d laugh about their vacant stares
But right now _______ time is theirs

Seems like there’s always someone who disapproves
They’ll judge it like they know about _______ and _______
And the verdict comes from those with nothing else to do
The jury’s out, but _______ choice is you

So don’t you worry _______ pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
And life makes love look hard
The stakes are high, the water’s rough
But this love is ours

You never know what people have up _______ sleeves
Ghosts from your past gonna jump out at me
Lurking in the shadows with their lip gloss smiles
But _______ don’t care ’cause right now you’re _______

And you’ll say
Don’t you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
And life makes love look hard
The stakes are high, the water’s rough
But this love is _______

And it’s not _______ to speculate
If _______’s wrong and
Your hands are tough
But they are where _______ belong and
I’ll fight their doubt and give you faith
With this song for _______

‘Cause _______ love the gap between your teeth
And I love the riddles that you speak
And any snide remarks from my father about _______ tattoos will be ignored
‘Cause my heart is _______

So don’t you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
And life makes love look hard
Don’t you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
But _______ can’t take what’s ours
They can’t take what’s ours

3. Discuss the pronouns in English before you go on with the exercises.

Exercise 1 – Write the missing pronouns:

Personal pronouns    Possessive adjectives    Possessive pronouns
I                         ________                     ________
________                  your                         ________
he                        ________                    his
________                  her                          hers
________                  its                          its
we                        our                          ________
they                      ________                     ________

Exercise 2 – Circle the pair of words that rhyme:

Shine – Mine
Love – Move
Life – Live
Rough – Tough
Make – Cake
Rough – Roof

Exercise 3 – Find the synonyms:

distrust, concern, disallow, glimmer, glare, difficult, big

1. worry
2. hard
3.  stare
4.  doubt
5. shine
6. disapprove
7. high

Exercise 4 – Write the full forms:

… If you were here we’d laugh about their vacant stares …
… Seems like there’s always someone who disapproves
They’ll judge it like they know about …
… So don’t you worry your pretty little mind …
… The stakes are high, the water’s rough …

How to teach English using music

If have you ever wanted to teach using songs, here are few ideas how to organize a lesson. When it comes to teaching English (or any other language for that matter) you have to plan your lesson carefully so that you avoid any problems that might come up along the way.  zznote

The first thing you should do is to choose the song. Although this might sound quite easy, from my personal experience, it may be the most difficult part when preparing a “music lesson”.

zznoteYou have to pay attention to:

  • What do you want to teach?

Setting up the goal of your lesson will help you decide which song to use. You should choose the song depending on the topic you are about to teach. For example, if you want to teach conditionals you should choose a song with a lot of “if”s in the song lyrics. If your goal is to teach adjectives, choose a song that has a lot of adjectives in the lyrics (check out one of the previous articles for some ideas: Five cool songs to teach adjectives in English.)

  • Who are your students?                                                        zznote

After you have set up your goal, and narrowed down the list of potential songs, now it is the time to narrow it down even more. The age and the cultural surrounding can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of your lesson. Don’t try to teach adults using some children songs, as it is doomed to fail. On the other hand, if you are teaching beginner level students, you should choose a song with a lot repetition. Have in mind that if the students don’t like the song, or if they feel uncomfortable in some way, they will be reluctant to participate in any activity, and let alone to join discussion.

zznotezNow that you have chosen the song, here is how to make the lesson based on the lyrics:

Warm up – get students involved by discussing the title or performer. Have they already heard of that song? If yes, what did they think of it? If not, can they guess what the song is about?

Gap fill – leave out some of the words and give the lyrics to students to fill in. If the words are relatively familiar to your students you don’t have to provide the words that are to be used. On the other hand, if you believe that the words are too difficult for them, you should write all the missing words in a box for students to choose from.           zznote

Vocabulary in use – students have to use the words from the song in the sentences. You can use the missing words from the previous exercise, or you can add other words from the lyrics. This type of exercise is also good for practicing expressions.

Matching – you can set up two columns of words and ask students to match, for example antonyms, synonyms, words that go together, etc.

Table – this is a good way to visually represent some patterns or rules. For example, if you are teaching conditionals, ask your students to fill in the two columns, main clause and subordinate clause.

zznoteAdding missing elements – write the words or sentences and ask your students to fill in the missing letters or the missing element of the phrases, for example phrasal verbs missing prepositions.

True or false – write the sentences about the song lyrics and ask the students to decide if they are true or false. You can also add another option – we don’t know, it doesn’t say.

Answer the questions and start up a discussion – think of some questions about the lyrics and then the students can continue talking about the topic.

Have you got some more ideas for the exercises?  zznotez
What’s your experience with teaching English with music?

Tips on effective learning of English language

If you want to learn a new language you have to be motivated and prepared for a serious work. Set a goal for yourself and try to achieve it. If you come across any difficulties, don’t  give up quickly. Be persistent and patient. Ask for help from your friends, from other learners or from teachers.

I’ve made a list of eight most useful tips on learning English. My focus is English language, but these tips can be applied for other languages as well.

1) Learn

Set up your plan for learning English and stick to it. Try to learn at least one word a day. Use grammar books, CDs, workbooks, English dictionaries, visit some website that publish lessons and study online.

2) Think

Regularly ask yourself this question: “How would I say this in English?”. Think of some situation and how would you communicate in English. If you are not sure, try to find the answer in your books or ask someone for help.

3) Listen

Listen to the radio or music in English. This a very interesting way of practising English as there are a lot of exercises you can do while you listen to music, such as learning new words, filling the gaps, discussing the meaning of the song, etc.


4) Watch

Watch films and TV programmes in English. Listen to the people speaking in English will help you learn the correct pronunciation and stress. Additionally you will learn new words and phrases while enjoying a nice film or a TV show.

5) Read

It doesn’t matter if it is a magazine, newspapers, blog articles… Read something in English every day as this will help you get familiar with sentence constructions in English.

6) Write

You should write something in English as often as possible.  It can be a short story; you can write a response to an article / forum post, you can post your status update, anything. Keep a vocabulary notebook where you would write new words and expressions you learn. When you learn new words, try to use them and write example sentences in your notebook.

7) Review

Always review the grammar and / or vocabulary before the next lesson. It is important to review regularly so that you don’t forget what you have learned so far. As language is a system, you have to review what you have learned in order to connect that to the new lessons.

8) Communicate

Speak, speak, speak! Your ultimate goal is to speak English, right?! So speak English every day. Find if there are conversation groups in your city and join them. If it is difficult to find someone to talk to, try practising English with other people online, via email or in the chat rooms, forums, etc.  Alternatively you can find pen pals online and write emails.

Questions for you:

Learners – What tip do you find most useful?
Teachers – Do you have more tips on effective learning?

Five cool songs to teach adjectives in English

Using songs to teach English is a great way to engage your students. Depending on the song, you can teach various topics, from tenses to pronouns, from vocabulary to grammar constructions. Let’s focus on teaching adjectives today.

1. Lenka – Everything at Once

This song is great for teaching a large number of adjectives, as well as for using the pattern “as…as”. See the complete lyrics with gaps to fill in here.

2. James Blunt – You’re Beautiful

While teaching adjectives with this song you can explain the difference between “you’re” and “your” at the same time.

3. Kelly Clarkson – Stronger

This amazing song is great not only for teaching adjectives, but also for explaining comparison of adjectives to your students.

4. Alanis Morissette – Hand in My Pocket

Interesting fact – “I’m” is used over 34 times in this song, “I’m this”, “I’m that”… Your hunch is right; there are a bunch of useful adjectives to describe people.


5. Kaiser Chiefs – Everyday I Love You Less and Less

If you wish to teach adjectives, especially the adjectives ending in –ed, this is the perfect song to use.

How do you teach with music? Share your favorite songs for teaching English in the comments.

How do you teach English?

There has been a survey among more than 500 ESL teachers all around the world in order to discover what additional resources do the teachers use for enhancing their lessons.

The greatest percent of ESL teachers (86%) use music to make English lesson interesting. English-speaking celebrities and movies are also commonly used. Then follow the newspapers, TV shows, radio, comics and computer games.


All of these can be used to present vocabulary or certain grammar rules. For example, if you want to teach your student adjectives, find a song that has a lot of adjectives in the lyrics. Furthermore, you can follow up by explain the comparison of adjectives and then using the same adjectives for practice. If you wish to teach the passive voice, you can find the newspaper article and ask the student to find the passive sentences and then follow up by analyzing the text.

How do you make your English classes interesting? What is the most effective way to enhance an English lesson?

British Vs American Vocabulary

British American
lift elevator
boot trunk
trousers pants
autumn fall
cinema movies
chips fries
car park parking lot
holiday vacation
main road highway
nappy diaper
petrol gas, gasoline
pocket money allowance
pavement sidewalk
postbox mailbox
rubber eraser
rubbish garbage
sweets candy
timetable schedule
tube subway
windscreen windshield
torch flashlight
tin can
railway railroad
post code zip code
lorry truck
driving licence driver’s license
biscuit cookie
aeroplane airplane
grey gray

Have they gone bananas?

Have you ever lost your cool because someone was giving you the cold shoulder? Have you heard of the news spreading like wildfire? You shouldn’t be taken by surprise when they decide to get down to brass task. And then, out of the blue, you realize that the world is your oyster and you call the shots. These kinds of expressions can rock the boat for some people but it shouldn’t be difficult getting to the bottom of this. The buck stops here.

These expressions called idiomatic expressions, commonly used by native speakers, can impose certain problems for non-native speakers because they don’t imply literal meaning. They cannot be understood by analyzing the meaning of the individual word of the expression in question. Their meaning is fixed and learned by heart.

So let’s get this off your chest by explaining some of the idioms used in the previous text:

go bananas – became crazy, silly
loose your cool – to lose temper, become angry
give a cold shoulder – to treat someone in an unfriendly way
spread like wildfire – to spread rapidly
take somebody by surprise – to happen unexpectedly
get down to brass task – to discuss the essentials of the matter at hand
out of the blue – suddenly, unexpectedly
the world is your oyster – you’re free and able to enjoy life
call the shots – exercise authority or be in charge
rock the boat – to cause a problem
get to the bottom of something – understand something completely
buck stops here – problems are solved here
get something off your chest – talk about something that worries you or causes problem for you


And to add 10 frequently used idioms:

chicken out (of something) – withdraw from something due to fear or cowardice
back to square one – having to start all over again
piece of cake – something that is very easy to do
to kill two birds with one stone – to manage to do two things at the same time
adding salt to the wound – making situation worse than it is
take a rain check – postponing someone’s invitation for later
long time no see – it has been a long time since they last met
to cut a long story short – stop telling details and get to the main facts
keep your fingers crossed – hoping the things will happen the way you want
break a leg – wish good luck to someone