Here’s a great way to practice idioms and other sayings that your class has been learning — and perhaps discovering some additional ones — by changing a detail or two to fit a new context. Students get to use as much humor through this project as they like.
Before you begin, remind the class of several or possibly all the sayings they have learned so far, either by writing them down on the board or by getting students to write them down after searching their own memories. Then break the students into groups of 2-3.
Students will specify a context – something out of the ordinary, or at least something with its own vocabulary set. Perhaps they imagine they are celebrities, or dolphins, or wizards, or spies. Perhaps they live underwater, or in the 14th Century, or in a beehive. If you’re doing the Character Journey project, you can use those characters for this project. Students could also take the context from their favorite film, book, or TV show.
Students will then make adjustments to common sayings so that the fit the identity or situation of the individual expressing them. Keep reading for examples. Depending on the proficiency level of your class, ask them to create five to ten sayings per group.
To make it easier to decide upon those sayings, students have the option of first selecting a group of sayings that have a common theme or common elements (since idioms and other sayings are often taught this way anyway), then choose their context based on a variation of that element.
Variant 1: Close Enough
Suppose you previously taught a unit on idioms that use body parts. One of the groups of students now decides to use some of those idioms and apply the context of pirates, since the stereotypical pirate has a hook instead of a hand, a peg leg, an eye-patch, or any combination of those. That group might come up with the following adjusted idioms:
“Things are really getting out of hook.”
“She knows this sea like the back of her hook.”
“This ship cost me an arm and a peg, but it’s worth it!”
“Don’t take it so seriously; I’m just pulling your peg leg.”
“Feast your eye-patch on this treasure!”
In this way, students substitute hand, leg, and eye with something similar, and something that’s common for the context they specified.
Variant 2: Punny
A pun, by definition, is a play on words in which one word is substituted by a similarly-sounding word (or even a word that sounds the same) that has a different meaning.
While Variant 1 is about using words with similar meanings, Variant 2 is about using words with similar sounds. Rhymes are a good way to go.
If a group of students chooses the context of a chef or a baker, they might come up with the following sayings:
“If at first you don’t succeed, fry, fry again.”
“You know what they say: spice guys finish last.”
“I’ve got all the thyme in the world.”
“Should the cake be chocolate or vanilla? I can’t bake up my mind!”
“You need to hear this; you can’t just bury your bread in the sand.”
When the groups are ready, they should choose whichever member has the best comedic delivery to share their punchlines with the rest of the class. The presenter should reveal the context before delivering the jokes. Some of these are nice one-liners, meaning the saying makes enough sense on its own. Others may be in need of a setup, so groups should decide upon those before the presentation.
A setup provides more specific context for the joke. It also sets expectations for the audience so that once they hear the start of the punchline, they can identify the idiom or common saying it’s supposed to be. Sometimes it helps for the jokes to be delivered through dialogue, so groups can select a straightman to help deliver the setup, leading to the comedian’s punchline. Keep the jokes short; if the entire joke (from the start of the setup to the last word of the punchline) takes twenty seconds or longer, it’s too long.
You can make a contest out of this, or simply let the students enjoy delivering and listening to jokes.