I’ve written two or three blogs now on different senses and how we can do quick fun activities to help children become better listeners and be more observant etc.
It then struck me that our language is absolutely full of idioms and sayings that refer to different body parts. It also struck me that you could use many of them to get children to think about grammar and other parts of literacy and word play.
Why should children know about them? Well they are an example of how you might say (or write) something in a way that is potentially more interesting. The meaning behind an idiom is deliberately opaque and requires the reader to ‘translate’ what is often a strange literal phrase into a deeper layer of understanding.
Many of the idioms use personification: that is they refer to the part of the body as if it had human attributes of its own or was able to ‘do’ things – either under your control – or sometimes despite you:
e.g. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body
I’m going to vote with my feet
I really did vent my spleen.
My heart goes out to you
Ask children to draw a picture of the literal meanings and then discuss their drawings - bordering on the surreal when we take them literally. A chance for children to consider the place of figurative language and the job of metaphors and similes perhaps?
We use body idioms as a way to describe other people’s looks and actions – sometimes in a less than complimentary way:
Wet behind the ears
Joined at the hip
Neck and neck
Easy on the eye
Bit thick in the head.
It’s written all over their face
I wonder which idiom children would think was the most insulting? And why?
More often than not we use them as a way to express our own feelings – to give them a sort of depth and gravitas – to let people know just how annoyed or upset we are. (Interestingly they seem to be used more often to express a negative emotion)
They can be fairly mild, gentle examples as well as stronger more vociferous expressions of how we feel about something.
My hands are tied
It was a slip of the tongue
My heart just isn’t in it.
It was a real shot in the arm
A weight off my shoulders
I had a gut feeling
Makes my blood boil
Cried my heart out
I’m digging my heels in.
You can ask children to take a list like this one and sort them according to how ‘strong’ they think they are: gentle to strong along a line.
Another activity is to ask children to invent a short conversation between two people or a mini play script. The challenge is to get their characters using as many idioms as possible. A way to see that the overuse of idioms creates cluttered writing.
If children are interested – they could draw a blank body outline and find out which body parts are (or not) used in idioms. Is there a part of the body that appears more frequently?
Does a body part have particular types of idioms – e.g. the heart is often linked to courage, affection or compassion – the centre of things? ‘Don’t break my heart: My aching heart: Put your heart and soul into it.
There’s more than meets the eye in these idioms I think.