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It's Raining Cats and Dogs

Laughter erupts as students learn the differences between literal and figurative language by illustrating common idioms.

  • Grade 5
    Grade 6
    Grades 7 and 8
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. Share several common idioms with students and ask what they think they mean. Some possibilities include: It’s raining cats and dogs. Has the cat got your tongue? I have a frog in my throat. Time flies.
    2. Ask them to consider what it must be like for someone who is just learning English to hear such expressions. If these people were to take such expressions literally, what might they envision? Tell them that these expressions are called idioms. Can students think of other idioms?
    3. Discuss the difference between literal and figurative language. Provide students with a list of common idioms and ask each to select one to illustrate literally.
    4. Encourage students to experiment with a variety of art materials to create bold, eye-catching, humorous illustrations. Dark backgrounds make bright images stand out. Texturing adds interest to an overall presentation. Some students might wish to create images on separate pieces of paper using a variety of media and then cut them out and paste them onto an interesting background. Provide a variety of Crayola® products as well as assorted collage materials so students can make choices.
    5. Remind students to write the idiom on the illustration making it part of the overall composition. Ask them to write explanations of the literal and figurative meanings of their idioms on separate papers attached to their illustrations.
  • Standards

    LA: Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

    LA: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

    LA: Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

    LA: Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    VA: Students will investigate, plan and work through materials and ideas to make works of art and design.

    VA: Students will use a variety of methods for preparing their artwork and the work of others for presentation.

    VA: Students experience, analyze and interpret art and other aspects of the visual world.

  • Adaptations

    Idioms are a type of figurative language. Can students think of other types of figurative language? Some of the more common ones are similes, metaphors, and hyperboles. Interested students may wish to create illustrations for some of these as well. Paul Bunyan stories are full of hyperboles and many poems contain similes and metaphors.

    Do other languages have anything like our idioms? Invite students who are studying a foreign language to ask their language teachers about idioms in other languages and report back to the class.

    If there is an ESL class (English as a Second Language) in your school, make arrangements for students to visit that class with their illustrations and participate in a lesson on idioms.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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