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Small Story Using Idioms In Essay

When I was little, I used to have a book with a collection of Russian proverbs and sayings.  I remember being absolutely fascinated by the depth of knowledge and wisdom that I discovered on the pages of that book.  Those proverbs opened a door for me to a better understanding of the Russian culture as well as important norms, morals, and life values.  Indeed, I can say they helped me become a more mature and intelligent human being.

Speaking about second language learners: Proverbs can—like in my own experience—help them learn a great deal about the target culture and the norms and values that people in that culture respect and treasure.  A writing class  is a great venue for incorporating proverbs into teaching.  With the effective use of proverbs, a teacher can both help students develop their writing skills and deepen their cultural knowledge.  In other words, the use of proverbs kills two birds with one stone!

I want to share some activities that teachers can do in the writing classroom.  Hopefully, they can inspire you to further ideas.

Using Proverbs as In-Class Journal Prompts

When I was teaching a writing class in an intensive English program, part of my weekly routine was having students write, twice a week, a 10-minute in-class journal.  The prompts for these activities were prepared in advance, and were created to help students develop their creativity and analytical thinking.  Proverbs seem to make excellent prompts for in-class journals.  I suggest, however, that you select the proverbs with transparent rather than metaphorical meanings.  Before the actual writing activity, you can also briefly explain the meaning of the proverb to help students move their thoughts in the right direction.

Here are some proverbs that you can use as journal prompts:

  • A friend in need is a friend indeed.
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • Bad news travels fast.
  • Better late than never.
  • Better safe than sorry.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • Honesty is the best policy.
  • Never too old to learn.
  • Practice makes perfect.
  • Practice what you preach.
  • Two heads are better than one.
  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
  • What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Writing a Story That Illustrates a Proverb

For this activity, you need to select several proverbs with metaphorical meanings.  After you explain the meanings of those proverbs and briefly discuss them with the students, ask them to pick one proverb and write a short story or a passage that would illustrate the meaning of the proverb they picked.  Then each student will read their story and the rest of the class will try to guess the proverb.

Here are some proverbs that you can use for this activity:

  • A watched pot never boils.
  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • A stitch in time saves nine.
  • Curiosity killed the cat.
  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • Easy come, easy go.
  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • Give someone an inch, he/she will take a mile.
  • Look before you leap.
  • Still waters run deep. 
  • The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
  • The early bird gets the worm.
  • There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
  • There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
  • To kill two birds with one stone.
  • Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  • We will cross that bridge when we get to it.
  • Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
  • When it rains, it pours.
  • You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Teaching About the Rhetorical Situation

The concept of rhetorical situation is not easy to grasp for second language learners.  You can help students gain a better understanding of purpose, audience, and stance by implementing a simple writing activity with the use of proverbs.  For this activity, you should choose one proverb and ask the students to write a story or a short passage illustrating the meaning of the proverb (just like in the activity described above).  Then each student will read his or her piece and the rest of the class will analyze it in terms of its rhetorical situation.  The following questions will help the students analyze the rhetorical situation:

  • What is the writer’s purpose?
  • What is the writer’s stance in this piece?  
  • Who is the audience? 
  • What is the basic impression that the author wants to convey? 
  • What do you think the writer wants the audience to do based on this passage? 

To further help students with the concept of rhetorical situation, you can also discuss the differences between the students’ passages.  The students will be able to see that although they all wrote about the same proverb, their passages/stories are quite different because of the differences in their rhetorical situations.

Practicing Argumentative Skills

Since many proverbs contain arguable points (e.g., Don’t judge a book by its cover; Honesty is the best policy; Better late than never), they can also be used to help students develop their argumentative skills.  You can simply ask the students to express their agreement or disagreement with the meaning of the selected proverb and provide convincing pieces of evidence to defend their position.

There are certainly many other stimulating and interactive activities that writing teachers can do to help their students develop their writing skills and learninteresting and useful facts about the target culture.  Please feel free to share your ideas with us!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.

View all posts by Elena Shvidko →

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Number 26 of 75 in C1/2 - ADVANCED+

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A Short Story with Phrasal Verbs

Read this text of three short paragraphs with more than 30 phrasal verbs, using ‘get’, ‘take’, ‘do’, ‘go’, ‘put’, ‘make’ and more – Reading with exercise.



  • You can listen to the text by pressing the ‘PLAY’ button at the end.
  • Check the meaning or pronunciation by double-clicking any individual word (but not a Phrasal Verb).
  • Use the Google translator at the top of the page to translate the whole text.

In the exercise at the end you will be given a definition, and asked to find the right phrasal verb from the story. Good luck!

An Imperfectly Perfect Day

When I set off for work this morning, my car broke down, so I ended up taking the bus. As soon as I got off, I bumped into an old schoolmate, Mark. While we were talking, he brought up something I had already found out from some mutual friends- that he had come into some money and had set up his own business. He told me that there was a lot to sort out, and offered to take me on, but I turned him down straight away.

When I clocked in, my boss had a go at me, telling me off in front of everyone. When I got over the initial shock, I told her I’d make up for being late, but it turned out that she had blown up over a deal that had fallen through, after a client of mine had pulled out ofa contract. She told me that I wouldn’t get away with it, that I’d let everybody down, and just went on and on….

Eventually, I ran out of patience and answered back– I said I was not going to put up with it anymore, and if she wanted to lay me off, she should go ahead. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I stormed out, phoned Mark’s secretary, who put me through to him. I told Mark I’d like to take him up on his offer. So, in the end, everything has worked out perfectly!


Now do the exercise (below)


More Exercises with Phrasal Verbs


Press ‘START’. Then match the Phrasal Verb with its definition:




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