Winter idioms and other expressions
“Winter is coming!” and it’s time to pick up some cool phrases on this topic. Winter-themed idioms will enrich the vocabulary of upper-intermediate students and above. All idioms, definitions and examples are taken from idioms.thefreedictionary.com and “Work on your idioms”. In the second part of the article, there are some ideas on how to help the expressions stick in learners’ memory.
- Break the ice = if a person, an event or activity breaks the ice, they make people more relaxed and comfortable in a social situation.
This joke was a good ice-breaker.
2. Be skating (treading, walking, standing) on thin ice = be doing something which could have unpleasant consequences.
You’re on thin ice, Jefferson. If you come in late one more time, you’re fired!
3. Be (as) pure as the driven snow = be virtuous or chaste.
Kate would never cheat on an exam — she’s pure as the driven snow.
4. Do a snow job on (someone) = try to persuade someone through lying or flattery.
He laid the compliments on her so thick, it was surprising that she couldn’t see that he was just doing a snow job on her.
5. Snow (one) under with (something) = overwhelm or overwork one with something, such as work, responsibilities, duties, etc. Often used in passive constructions.
I’m sorry I haven’t returned your calls. It’s just that lately I’ve been totally snowed under with work and looking after the kids.
6. In the dead of winter = in the middle of winter, which is usually especially cold.
I find myself dreaming of tropical islands every year in the dead of winter.
7. When hell freezes over and the devil learns to (ice) skate = never; at no time.
Bob, our family will relinquish control of this company to you when hell freezes over and the devil learns to ice skate.
8. (Someone) could sell ice to Eskimos = someone is an extremely charming, or persuasive salesperson, such that they could sell something to people who have no need or use for it.
I can’t believe you were able to sell an extra 200 units to the hospital. You could sell ice to Eskimos!
9. Cold fish = someone who shows no emotion and comes across as unfriendly or disinterested.
The manager decided not to hire Bill as the store greeter because he came across like a cold fish during the interview.
10. (As) cold as a well digger’s feet (in January) = extremely cold.
Ugh, the winters here are cold as a well digger’s feet — that’s why I’m moving to Florida.
She thinks you started that rumor about her — that’s why she’s been giving you the cold shoulder all day.
Here are four activities to practice useful expressions.
Task 1. Picture idioms
Choose 6-9 pictures that illustrate the meaning of the idioms. For example:
Ask students to guess the words. Learners can interpret one and the same image in different ways. For instance, picture 3 can be about being a cold fish or about being snowed under with work.
Then they can make 1-3 sentences to describe each picture: image 2 is “someone could sell ice to Eskimos”. Jenny is a very talented salesperson. She can always find the right words to persuade customers.
Task 2. Correct the idiom
Make the sentences with the phrases but change 1-2 elements. Let learners find and correct the mistakes ( the wrong words are underlined).
- My boss is a real cold shoulder. He doesn’t care about what other people feel.
- He’s doing a snow job now. He has never had so much work in his life.
- Silvia is sitting on thin ice. She might really regret it in the future.
- lt. Mark is as clean as the driven snow.
- Your nose is as cold as a well digger’s hands in January!
Task 3. Ask the question
Ask students to make 5-6 questions using winter-themed expressions. Then they ask and answer them in pairs. For example, to practice the Present Perfect:
- Have you ever skated on thin ice? When and why?
- Has anyone ever done a snow job on you? What happened?
- Has anyone ever given you the cold shoulder? When and why?
Task 4. What are my idioms?
Ask learners to make a story about somebody using 3-5 idioms from the list. Then they tell it to their partner but omit the idioms. The other person should guess the phrases. For instance:
It happened in the office. Ben was a new employee and had so much work to do (was snowed under with work). His colleagues were really unfriendly to him (gave him the cold shoulder) and his boss was so unemotional (was a cold fish)…
Then learners change roles.
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