Studying Figurative Language with Alice's Adventures with Idioms

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For you, figurative language is probably old hat. But if you start paying attention to the expressions you use every day and take for granted, you’ll quickly see how English idioms, similes, and metaphors could fly right over a child’s head. (Are you rolling your eyes yet? Good! We are Bad Wolf and it is our duty to thump you over the head with groan-inducing wordplay.)

Our experience writing our newest show, Alice’s Adventures with Idioms, opened our eyes to the depth of understanding that students could gain by studying figurative language. We wanted to create a play that could function as more than just a play, one that could launch lots of related language arts activities. So we opened the floodgates, stuffing the script and songs with over 150 idioms and similes. Of course, your students will learn a bucketload by simply putting on the play! But here are some additional suggestions for those who want to go the extra mile.

Use the songs/scenes throughout the year. Each song and scene in the show contains numerous examples of figurative language. Every few weeks you can hand out a small portion of the script and/or play a song. Assign students to find the meaning of individual expressions and report back to the class. Each song also has a theme (or two) that ties the idioms together. Ask students to identify that theme and make a list of other expressions that would fit into the same theme. By working on the show in this progressive way, students will have time to master the meaning of every single idiom. And when you put on the whole play at the end of the year, they’ll already know the songs and much of the dialogue. Rehearsals will be a breeze!

Get historical. The last full song in Alice is called “Idioms Have Tales to Tell.” We hope this catchy ditty whets your class’s appetite for idiomatic exploration. Even the strangest expressions aren’t just random; many used to have a literal meaning, and all have a historical basis. When you ask students to roll up their sleeves and research the history—not just the meaning—of an idiom, they will learn a ton about how language evolves, why we have the phrases we do, and the capacity of the English language to absorb words and expressions from other tongues and cultures. Who knows—some of your students may even fall head over heels with linguistics.

Bilingual classroom. Idioms aren’t just great for exploring English; they’re great for digging in to any language. When translated literally, they can also be quite hilarious! Your multilingual students can share favorite expressions from their other language(s). Which ones have English equivalents?

English Language Learners. Alice is a great resource for anyone learning English. You can use the play like any other, but plan to build in extra time (and perhaps supplementary exercises) to help students unpack and understand the idioms. The a-ha moments will come rolling in! Tell us more, tell us more. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. We’d love to hear how you’re using Alice. Get in touch by leaving a comment below or contacting us.

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