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Fun with Ambition Idioms!

by Bernadette M. López-Fitzsimmons | 30 Oct 2017
Resource Description:

This lesson was originally taught to international students had attained high intermediate proficiency in English. It can also be taught to secondary education English learners and adult learners.

The lesson is based on SIOP.

Audience: Adult, Secondary, University
Audience Language Proficiency: Intermediate
Duration: one 50 minute session
Language Skill: Writing
Content Area:

In earlier classes the students had written the following types of essays for this ESL course: 

  1. Process
  2. Narrative
  3. Descriptive
  4. Cause-and-effect
  5. Argumentative

Based on prior knowledge – grammar, vocabulary, phrasal verbs, collocations, special expressions, and idioms—students have been learning to use context clues to glean meanings from readings without immediately consulting dictionaries. 

 This lesson will build upon this academic knowledge and these literacy skills by focusing on guiding students in their analysis of the figurative and literary meanings of idioms.

 Therefore, teaching idioms is appropriate for Expanding & Commanding International Students (ISs) at this juncture because it incorporates higher order thinking skills (HOTS) by having them differentiate between literal and figurative meanings in readings and in their own essays.

This prior knowledge will facilitate building new knowledge about a specific group of idioms – the ambition idioms -- in today’s lesson. Students will use their context clues to glean the meanings of unknown idioms and phrases.

 The theme and topic are consistent with CCSS, CCRA, Key shifts, and Scope & Sequence which are listed under “Standards.”

Materials and Technology:

Handouts One and Two

  1. Handout One:  photographs depicting ambition idioms
  2. Handout Two

    a.  “Climbing the corporate ladder”, p. 114-155;

    b.  Getting the Meaning,” p. 116-117;

    c.  “Retelling the story, “p. 118-119. 

Sections adapted from Chapter 7, [Ambition Idioms]:  Watkins. D. (1995).The Idiom Advantage : Fluency in speaking and listening. New York:  Addison-Wesley Publishing (Longman).

White board, eraser, colored markers





 Linguistic Objectives

Students will be able to (SWBAT)…

a. recognize and understand the meanings of the ambition idioms. 

b. think of other idioms in their  languages and illustrate their meanings.

c.  communicate effectively with peers  and discuss idioms, their meanings, and uses with them.

d. listen attentively to their classmates’ ideas and opinions about idioms, their meanings, and uses

e. make inferences and support them with evidence from text

f. analyze the impact of word choice, tone, conflict and symbolism,

Content Objectives.

Students will be able to (SWBAT) …

a. appreciate and value idioms in a variety of contexts which would include

·         Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency  (CALP)

·         Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS).

b. understand and identify idiomatic language in different situations.

c. predict meanings of idioms based on context clues.


  1.  Students will (SW) access prior knowledge about idioms, their meanings, and various uses.
  2. Students will (SW) access prior knowledge on how to glean meanings of unknown words, phrases, collocations, etc., from “context clues.”
  3. Students will (SW) re-apply their prior knowledge about figurative and literal meanings to the new “ambition idioms” presented in today’s lesson.


  1. Learners will be able to use ambition idioms in essays, letters, and presentations. 
  2. They will be able to use ambition idioms in conversation.
  3. Thy will be able to recognize them in written and aural forms, improving reading and listening skills.

Lesson Sequence:  Idioms of Ambition

1.  Greet the class!  Introduce myself to the class.

2.  Ask students to form a semi-circle for today’s class.

3. Distribute index cards to students. Each student should receive an index card with his or her first name on it.

4.  Invite each student to say something about himself or herself.

5.  Explain today’s linguistic and contents objectives.  (Arrive early enough to the class to write the learning objectives on the board.)

 6.   Ask students whether they know any idioms that refer to ambition. 

a.      Invite them to share the idioms they know with the class. 

b.      If there no one has an idiom on ambition to share, use    Handout One to introduce ambition idioms.

7.   Distribute Handout One which has two idioms about ambition.  Read the directions aloud.

a.      Instruct students to turn and talk about the meaning of the two idioms.

b.      Ask them to write their ideas in the appropriate spaces provided on the handout.

c.       Rotate around the room to formatively assess students’ participation in this activity.

d.      Invite each pair to write their ideas on the board.

e.      Discuss each pair’s ideas in whole class share

f.        Instruct students to answer the practice questions on page 2 of Handout One.

g.      Review answers to practice questions in whole class share.

h.      Ask students whether the two ambition idioms convey literal meaning or figurative meaning.

i.        Review the concepts in whole class share:  literal vs. figurative.  Then, move on to the next activity.


8.   Distribute Handout Two which is an interview about “Climbing the corporate ladder” (Ch. 7,p. 114-115, The Idiom Advantage by Dana Watkins).

a.      Review the meanings of key vocabulary:  context clues.

b.      Instruct students to read the article in silence (independent work).

c.      As they read the article they must underline idioms listed above the interview.

d.       Instruct students to number the idioms on the list in the order in which they appear.

a.      Invite students to use “context clues” to glean the meanings of the idioms they found.

b.      Ask students to consider whether the meanings are literal or figurative.

c.       Instruct students to share their answers with a partner.  Turn and talk about the interview and its idioms.

d.      Rotate around the room to formatively assess students’ engagement in this activity.

e.      Review the list of idioms and their meanings in whole class share.

 9.  Ask students to find the activity, “Getting the Meaning,” on Handout Two

a.      Read the instructions aloud.  Review the first example with the class.

b.      Ask students to work independently on this exercise.

c.       Rotate around the classroom to formatively assess students’ comprehension and progress.  Answer any questions students may have.  Provide individualized instruction as needed.

d.      If time allows, instruct students to compare answers with their classmates.

e.      Review the answers in whole class share.

 10.  Assign homework from Handout Two:  “Retelling the Story.”

a.      Read instructions aloud to the entire class. 

b.      Do the first example with the class.  Ask students whether they have any questions about the assignment.

c.       If there is time, allow students to begin the assignment in class. 

d.      Rotate around the classroom answering questions and providing individualized instruction as needed (formative assessment).

e.      Before ending class, remind students to finish the assignment. Students will (SW) submit homework to teacher in the next class (formative assessment).

f.        Ask students to think of ambition idioms in their home language for next time.  If there home language does not have ambition idioms, ask them to think of other idioms that might serve as substitutes in their culture.

g.      The next class will begin using prior knowledge about ambition idioms and home language idioms about ambition (depending on the language and culture).

h.      Instruct students that the class has ended.





  1. Teacher will (TW) invite students to access prior knowledge about idioms, context clues, literal meaning, figurative (hidden) meaning.

           Formative Assessment 

  1. Teacher will (TW) rotate around the classroom verifying that all students are engaged during small group work, turn and talk (partner work), and individual work.
  2. Teacher  will (TW) observe that all students are discussing ambition idioms and gleaning their meanings from context clues.
  3. Teacher will (TW) provide individualized instruction to students who find the lesson challenging.
  4. Teacher will (TW) collect assigned homework and provide descriptive feedback to students.
  5. Teacher will (TW) engage students in higher order thinking skills (HOTS) through small group work, partner work, and independent activities.
  6. Teacher will (TW) verify that all students are speaking to their peers in pair work or small group work, sharing their ideas and answers.
  7. Teacher will (TW) observe students’ written and oral contributions, noting their comprehensible input.

           Summative Assessment

  1. Teacher will (TW) administer a unit exam on idioms – including the ambition idioms – upon completing the entire unit.
  1. Role play using ambition idioms
  2. Learners can work in pairs writing the script for the role play between interviewer/interviewee or two classmates talking about their future

Watkins. D. (1995).The Idiom Advantage : Fluency in speaking and listening. New York:  Addison-Wesley Publishing (Longman).

Handout Two was from this book. It is not attached below. Please refer to the following pages:

a.  “Climbing the corporate ladder”, p. 114-155;

b.  Getting the Meaning,” p. 116-117;

c.  “Retelling the story, “p. 118-119. 

Useful Links: Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). (2017). SIOP Lesson Plans. Retrieved from
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TESOL Interest Section: Adult Education, English as a Foreign Language, English for Specific Purposes, Higher Education, Intercultural Communication