In England, in the 1500s, you could buy a piglet at a farmer’s market, and it would cost quite a bit. A dishonest merchant might put a stray cat in the bag instead of the piglet, and you wouldn’t find out until you got home and let the cat out of the bag!


In order to add life, humour and cultural interest to their texts, authors and media producers often use figurative language in the form of idioms and expressions. Isn’t it curious that languages contain these expressions that, if taken literally, can lead to confusion and sometimes hilarity? Students play with words and learn more about these figures of speech.


Elementary Cycle 2

  1. The teacher reads aloud a text that contains idioms and expressions. Students explore different types of texts to find more idioms and expressions. They record their findings, noting the meaning of the expressions within the texts, as well as the effect of the figurative language on the meaning of the text and on the reader.
  2. Students choose two expressions that are related to the same theme. They create posters that represent the expressions, literally as well as figuratively. In small groups, they share the illustrations of literal meanings in a game that challenges peers to guess the expression and its figurative meaning.
  3. In collaboration with the FSL class, to encourage the transfer of language learning, students use graphic organizers to compare expressions from both languages and to look at similarities and differences in terms of the meanings of the expressions explored.

Secondary Cycle 2

  1. Small groups of students research advertisements, looking for effective use of idioms to discuss their meanings and how they make the advertisements more effective. They share their findings to broaden their awareness of the use of idioms in advertising and the possible impact of idioms on different readers.
  2. Students select a service or product and create their own advertisement, which they will later present to the class, using idioms for an intended effect. Students research the idiom used in their advertisement to discover its origin and to consider how its meaning has changed over time.
  3. In collaboration with the FSL class, to encourage transfer of language learning, students analyze the similarities and differences between expressions and idioms in the two languages, as well as their evolution over time. With their peers, the ELA students discuss the meanings and interpretations of the idioms and expressions within the context of the ads they’ve created.

Questions that students could be asked during the activity

  • What are some expressions and idioms that are part of our life and culture?
  • How might these expressions lead to misunderstanding and confusion?
  • What purposes do these expressions serve in a text? How do they impact the message in a text?
  • How have these expressions changed over time?
  • Why are idioms and expressions used in advertising?

Elements of the Quebec Education Program (QEP)


  • Reading: Uses reading strategies to construct meaning from texts
  • Writing and production processes: Uses signs, symbols, illustrations and words to communicate to a familiar audience
  • Communicating: Actively participates in collaborative group activities


  • Reading: Reads and produces advertisements, including public service announcements, posters, book trailers
  • Writing and production processes: Understands the purpose of techniques and devices when producing texts (e.g. humour, figurative language, persuasive language)
  • Communicating: Actively participates in collaborative group activities
  • Uses a variety of media and technology resources

Suggestions for activities with cultural partners

  • As part of the Culture in the Schools program, invite an artist from the Répertoire culture-éducation to explore different media and techniques that can be used to produce illustrations and ads (English content available)
  • Invite an author to look at the choices authors/producers make in crafting a text
  • Invite an illustrator to discuss how illustrations carry meaning that complements and enhances a text

Cultural references

  • Figurative language, i.e. idioms and expressions
  • Texts intended for youth
  • Media texts