15 Education or School Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

Updated on June 6, 2018

Idioms or idiomatic expressions have such deep meanings that they often cause confusion among learners of English as a Second Language or ESL.

They are used in almost all topics, including education and school.

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

1. Teach Someone a Lesson

If we teach someone a lesson, then we want to do something that will make that person realize his or her 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. He was grounded 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 know how 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

A school of hard knocks is a way of learning valuable lessons in life through practical experience and not through the books.


She learned from the school of hard knocks that failures are not the 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. She passed the test with flying colors without much effort.

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 output adequate.


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

7. Learn by Heart and Learn by Rote

To learn 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 so well but without thinking too much about its true meaning.


I had to study 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 the honor roll, then our names are included in a list of names of people with outstanding performance or achievements.


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

9. From the Old School

An idea 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 and their students do all the listening.

10. Eager Beaver

Someone is an eager beaver if he or she is very passionate about his or her 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 prepared for discussions.

11. Cover a Lot of Ground

When we try to cover a lot of ground, then we try to learn and discuss many topics.


The study group covered a lot of ground today.

12. Copycat

Someone is a copycat if he or she copies or steals 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.


Answering his chemistry test is as easy as ABC for him.

15. A for Effort

We give 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 A for effort. Honestly, the group’s work is just okay.

More on Idioms

© 2012 kerlynb


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    • profile image


      4 months ago

      why all the idioms are the same-?

      have you copied them-?

      find more interesting and try to be perfect mis

    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 

      8 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      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!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      8 years ago

      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 profile image


      8 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

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

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 

      8 years ago from Oakland, CA

      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 profile image

      Dina Blaszczak 

      8 years ago from Poland

      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 profile image


      8 years ago from Bangkok,Thailand

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


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