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Cultural idioms and expressions – Jane Godwin Coury

Idioms can be a wonderful insight into a country´s culture. Just think about the following dialogue:

In the UK:

John: “Would you like to go to a classical music concert tonight?”

Sarah: “Thanks for asking, but it´s not my cup of tea!”

In Brazil:

João: “Quer ir num concerto de música clássica?”

Sara: “Obrigada, mas não é minha praia!”

Idioms offer cultural understanding into a society´s way of being, customs, rituals, beliefs, principles, the weather, food, etc. Language and culture are inevitably connected. In the UK, tea is a part of the culture while in some parts of Brazil, beaches may play a big role in people´s lives.

When it comes to idioms and expressions, it is worth remembering that the language of a country is constantly changing, also reflecting the society. Older generations may use some idioms while younger people may come up with others. For instance, how many young people do you hear saying “It´s raining cats and dogs!” nowadays? Today people in their 20s in the UK would probably say “It´s chucking it down!”. Apparently, the idiom “It´s not my cup of tea!” is still in circulation among the youth, however a more up-to-date way of saying that could be “It´s not really my thing!”.

This month I have prepared some activities you can use with your students to practice idioms and expressions in use.



  • Give a copy of the worksheet below to each pair of students.
Choose the correct option in italics.
1 – Josie is such a drama queen.  She made such a storm in a teacup/glass of water/cup of coffee.
2 – That test was so easy.  It was a piece of cake/papaya with sugar/a slippery fish.
3 – I know a great game we can play with the kids in class today. One person whispers something into the next person´s ear and so on until the last person says what they understood.  It´s called wireless telephone/whisper chain/Chinese whispers.
4 – I´ve done so much this week, and it’s only Tuesday! I’m rotten/cream-crackered/the last biscuit in the packet.
5 – What energy the children have this morning!  They are full of beans/love/fizzy drinks!
6 – His plan was good, but at the last minute the cow went to the swamp/it all went apple-shaped/it all went pear-shaped.
7 – I can´t believe we have yet another problem on our hands.  That´s a drop of water/ the last straw/a big wave.
8 – I was so tired at the end of the bloke´s presentation.  He justfilled the sausage/filled the hole/waffled on for one whole hour
  • Now ask your students to write 8 sentences using the idioms and expressions. For example, I am always full of beans in the morning when I wake up. I have so much energy!
  • Check their sentences and then ask each pair to rub out the expression and put a line. For example, I am always ____________________________ in the morning when I wake up. I have so much energy!
  • Ask each pair of students to swap their 8 fill-in-the-gap sentences with another pair. They should write the expression they think fits in the gap and give it back to the original pair to check the answers.
1 – She made such a storm in a teacup.
2 – It was a piece of cake.
3 – It´s called Chinese whispers.
4 – I´m cream-crackered. (This rhymes with knackered, which means extremely tired).
5 – They are full of beans!
6 – His plan was good, but at the last minute it all went pear-shaped.
7 – That´s the last straw.
8 – He just waffled on for one whole hour



  • Give a copy of the worksheet below to each pair of students.
  • Ask each pair of students to find out what two idioms mean. Ask them to find examples on the internet or in dictionaries. They should present their idioms to the class. They could also discuss if they there is an equivalent in their own language.


I would like to thank Anna Réz de Szabó, who passed away recently, for everything she did for me throughout the years. She was my role model and guru. I am forever grateful.

About author

Jane Godwin Coury is from the UK and has been working in English Language Teaching since 1987. She holds an MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL from the University of Leicester and a Post-graduate certificate in Educação Transformadora: Pedagogia, Fundamentos e Práticas from PUCRS. She has been living and working in Brazil for 27 years and has also taught in France, Germany, the UK and the USA. Jane has vast experience of teaching English and has been involved in Cambridge English qualifications since 1995. She is also a teacher educator, English language editor and translator. Jane currently works at Cult Estácio teaching online courses. She is the author of various publications including “Exercícios para Falar Melhor em Inglês” (Disal) and co-author of “Help! Preciso de Atividades para Minhas Aulas” (Amazon).
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