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15 Education or School Idioms Explained to ESL Students

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Read on to learn about 15 commonly used English education- and school-related idioms. Understanding these idioms will help ESL students get a better grasp on conversational English.

Read on to learn about 15 commonly used English education- and school-related idioms. Understanding these idioms will help ESL students get a better grasp on conversational English.

What Is an Idiom?

Idioms or idiomatic expressions often cause confusion among learners of English as a Second Language (ESL). This is because ESL learners often cannot easily understand idioms or idiomatic expressions, as they have deep, unexpected meanings. The reason for this is that the meanings of idioms are far removed from their literal definitions.

To make things more complicated for ESL learners, idioms are very common in the English language. It is said that there are more or less 25,000 idioms in English. They are so common, that they are used in almost all topics, including education and school.

Below are 15 of the most commonly used English idioms relating to learning, studying, and schooling that ESL learners ought to know.

These are 15 common education- and school-related idioms any ESL student should understand.


1. Teach someone a lesson

6. Make the grade

11. Cover a lot of ground

2. Show of hands

7. Know by heart and learn by rote

12. Copycat

3. School of thought

8. Honor roll

13. Bookworm

4. School of hard knocks

9. From the old school

14. As easy as ABC

5. Pass with flying colors

10. Eager beaver

15. "A" for effort

1. Teach Someone a Lesson

If we teach someone a lesson, then we want to do something that will make that person realize their bad behavior and learn from it. Teaching someone a lesson is commonly seen as a punishment for misconduct.


The mother taught her son a lesson after he skipped classes by grounding him for two months.

2. Show of Hands

A show of hands is a form of voting for something or someone by literally raising hands. It is usually done to understand what people think and what they want.


After a show of hands, the class voted to go on a field trip to Southeast Asia.

3. School of Thought

A school of thought is a particular way of thinking, living, or acting. It can refer to a set of beliefs or actions.


One school of thought suggests that we teach kids a second language at an early age. Another school of thought says that we should teach kids a second language only after they have learned their native language.

4. School of Hard Knocks

School of hard knocks refers to learning valuable lessons in life through practical experience instead of through books or traditional schooling.


She learned from the school of hard knocks that failures are not an end but rather a part of her journey to success.

5. Pass With Flying Colors

To pass with flying colors means to pass or complete something successfully, with high scores or with distinction.


She’s a self-taught genius. Without much effort, she passed the test with flying colors.

6. Make the Grade

If we want to make the grade, then we want to meet high expectations or become acceptable. By making the grade, we are satisfying requirements and making ourselves, our actions, or our output adequate.


The student had not made the grade. He had to rewrite his essay.

7. Know by Heart and Learn by Rote

To know something by heart means to understand something so well that we need not exert too much effort when thinking about it.

To learn something by rote means to memorize something without thinking too much about its deeper meaning.


I had to know English grammar rules by heart because I wanted to write essays.

I had to learn the spellings of English words by rote because I did not want any misspellings in my essay.

8. Honor Roll

If we belong to our school's honor roll, then our names are included in a list of names of people with outstanding performance or achievements.


Her name was included on the honor roll. She’s one of the brightest kids in her class.

9. From the Old School

An idea or style is from the old school if it was popular and accepted in the past. Many of these ideas, however, are no longer popular in the present.


Their style is from the old school—their teachers do all the talking while their students do all the listening.

10. Eager Beaver

Someone is an eager beaver if he or she is very passionate about their work. They work very hard and for long hours. They are also very enthusiastic about working.


The kid is an eager beaver. He comes in early and is prepared for discussions.

11. Cover a Lot of Ground

When we try to cover a lot of ground, we try to learn and discuss many topics, sometimes in a fairly short time.


The study group covered a lot of ground today. They went over five chapters in their two-hour session.

12. Copycat

Someone is a copycat if they copy or steal the work of other people.


She was called a copycat after she turned in an assignment that she copied from her seatmate.

13. Bookworm

A bookworm is somebody who loves reading books and spends a great deal of time reading.


Martha is a certified bookworm. She reads almost all day during weekends.

14. As Easy as ABC

Something is as easy as ABC if it is very simple and uncomplicated. It is absolutely easy to understand.


Taking his chemistry test was as easy as ABC for him.

15. "A" for Effort

We give an A for effort to people who try to put in their best in a work, which may or may not necessarily be great, acceptable, or successful.


The teacher gave the group an A for effort. Honestly, the group’s work is just okay.

The 100 Most Common English Idioms

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 kerlynb


jahongirgadayev on February 11, 2020:

why all the idioms are the same-?

have you copied them-?

find more interesting and try to be perfect mis

Joana e Bruno from Algarve, Portugal on June 27, 2012:

Hello, Kerlynb, interesting hub, I knew most of the expressions, still there were a few that surprised me. Loved the Eager Beaver, it makes sense. Voted up and interesting!

Dianna Mendez on June 27, 2012:

I have a few students in my night class that are ESL learners. I am going to keep note on these for them as they continue to absorb our language. Great descriptions what are so simple to follow. Voted up.

buckleupdorothy from Istanbul, Turkey on June 26, 2012:

You've got a good list here - I'd absolutely send students this way. Rock on.

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on June 26, 2012:

Fantastic explanations! Idioms are one of the hardest parts of learning a language, because they just don't make literal sense! I'm sure many English Language Learners will benefit from this Hub.

Dina Blaszczak from Poland on June 26, 2012:

When I was studying English in college (while I lived in UK), I loved when our teacher gave us some idioms, my favourite one was and still is "Not my cup of tea" ;)

kiewkilw from Bangkok,Thailand on June 26, 2012:

Some of them i have never heard before. Voting this up, useful and interesting :)