Amelia Bedelia, that literal-minded maid, provides a great example of how confusing idiomatic phrases can be for English learners, as well as how useful the expressions are for descriptive writing.
Amelia Bedelia Gets Confused
An idiom is a phrase in which the usual meaning of the words does not predict the meaning of the entire phrase, such as “raining cats and dogs" or “put on your thinking cap." Beginning readers and students learning English as a foreign language often share a common struggle with American idioms, as they try to assign meaning word by word, which is definitely ineffective with these odd phrases.
Peggy Parish’s character, Amelia Bedelia, has the same trouble as she attempts to please her new employer by completing her assigned tasks. Unfortunately, her confusion leads to some troublesome — and hilarious — situations. Using Amelia’s mistakes to teach a lesson about idioms guarantees a few chuckles. Even middle school and high school students can enjoy the silliness in the stories, and they can focus on the lessons about idiomatic expressions, rather than the vocabulary or storyline when you use the simpler texts. With this idiom lesson plan, Amelia Bedelia will become almost like a mnemonic for remembering difficult expressions.
- Students will explain the meaning of “idiom."
- Students will recognize idioms in literature and in everyday communication.
- Students will provide examples of idioms.
1. Give each student a copy of a worksheet with idioms from the book.
- Set up the activity by explaining that these are the tasks that Amelia Bedelia is to perform at her new job.
- Ask the students to illustrate what they think Amelia is being asked to do.
- Discuss the pictures drawn by the students. Draw attention to any differences in interpretation or any confusion about what the phrases mean.
- Read the book aloud, sharing the illustrations in the book.
- Discuss Amelia Bedelia’s confusion and why it might have happened.
- Define “idiom" and ask students for more examples. Talk about what the examples mean when viewed literally and what they mean as idiomatic expressions.
2. Make journals for recording idioms seen or heard in everyday reading and conversation.
- Give each student two 5 1/2-inch by 8 1/2-inch pieces of colored cardstock with holes punched along one long side.
- Students find words from magazines or newspapers to “write" examples of idioms on one of the cover sheets. They glue the words to the cardstock so that the idioms cover the cardstock at random.
- Either cover pieces of cardstock with self-adhesive laminating film or put them through the laminating machine.
- Provide several 5 1/2-inch by 8 1/2-inch sheets of lined paper, again with holes punched on one long side.
- Place the lined sheets between the laminated cardstock covers, aligning all the holes.
- Lace the journal together with yarn and an overhand stitch. Wrap the end of the yarn with tape or dip it in glue and let it dry to make it easier to thread the yarn through the holes.
- Tie the yarn ends in a decorative bow.
3. Ask students to record idioms they hear or read at school, home or in other circumstances for the next week or two. Allow them to share their favorites every day or every other day. Extend the gathering process by having them illustrate the actual meaning of the phrase, as well as how it might be misunderstood.
4. Pair students and assign them to complete “Eye on Idioms."
5. Assign pairs or other small groups one of the idioms from Amelia Bedelia. Ask the partners to research the origin of the assigned idiom and to prepare a short presentation of how the expression came to be a part of the language. In addition, each group should make a page for a class idiom book.
6. Expand the list of idioms and assign each group a second expression to research. Ask the groups to select one favorite idiom from each of their journals to check on, as well. Groups design pages for the class book for each.
7. Copy the pages for each student and laminate the original pages. Compile the originals into a class reference book. Allow students to assemble their own books, adding them to the journal and rebinding them. Encourage students to use their reference books when reading and writing in and out of class.
Extend the experience by sharing other Amelia Bedelia books, including Amelia Bedelia and the Surprise Shower; Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia; Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend; Amelia Bedelia 4 Mayor, Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping and many others.
Supplement the lesson with idioms from Fred Gwynne’s books, A Little Pigeon Toad, The King Who Rained or A Chocolate Moose for Dinner. In a Pickle and Other Funny Idioms by Marvin Terban, as well as Tedd Arnold’s Parts, More Parts and Even More Parts will also provide fun and informative supplements to Peggy Parish’s books.
Through this idiom lesson plan, Amelia Bedelia will help make a difficult topic entertaining and engaging. Never underestimate the power of laughter for lesson content recall; these books will prove that point for you.
References and Resources
Dictionary.com: Idiom, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/idiom
Using English: English Idioms & Idiomatic Expressions,
Read Write Think: Eye on Idioms, http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/idioms/
Idioms, Slang, Phrasal Verbs, Colloquialisms, Cliches, and Proverbs, with Context Examples (about 700, http://www.speak-read-write.com/idiom.html
Terban, Marvin. Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms. Scholastic Reference, 1998.
Activities for this article also come from the author's many years of teaching.