Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

It's Raining Whats and Whats?

Colloquial Language

Jane Baber | Published: November 3rd, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 8th
  • Subject Subject English/Language Arts
  • Course Course
  • Time Frame Time Frame 1-2 class period(s)
  • Duration More 120 minutes


Colloquial language is informal and consists of words or phrases known primarily to native speakers of a language. In this lesson, students will examine not only how familiar they are with English colloquialisms, but also how often these colloquialisms are used in our speaking and writing, and the effect that colloquial language use might have on nonnative English speakers. Students work toward answering the question, "Where and when is it appropriate to use colloquial language?"

Essential Question(s)

How do colloquialisms make our language confusing or give it clarity?



Students view a series of images and try to identify the different colloquialisms that they represent.


Students explore colloquial phrases used in a variety of languages through a Card Sort activity.


After reading two short articles, students identify and evaluate the positive and negative effects of colloquial language, as well as discuss appropriate audiences for use of this type of language.


Students revise a piece of their own writing or an excerpt from The Outsiders to either incorporate more colloquial language remove colloquial language.


Choosing a piece of the text that they modified, students create a Cognitive Comic that illustrates how meaning is either confused or clarified with more or less colloquial language.


  • Lesson slides (attached)

  • Idioms from Around the World Card Sort (attached; one per group of 2-4 students)

  • Envelopes or paper clips

  • Idioms from Around the World handout (attached; optional, one per student)

  • "Hey Y'all It's Okay to Use Colloquialisms in Writing (Sometimes)" article (attached; one per student)

  • "Avoiding Colloquial Language" article (attached; one per student)

  • Highlighters

  • The Outsiders Excerpt (attached; optional)

  • Cognitive Comics Template (attached; one per student)


Use the attached Lesson Slides to follow along with the lesson. To begin, display slide 2, and introduce the definition of "colloquial language" to students. Ask students for some examples of regional phrases (e.g., "y'all") or idioms (e.g., "It's raining cats and dogs") they have heard or seen.

After a brief discussion, move through slides 3–7. Pause at each slide, and let students look at the image. Then, ask which common colloquial phrase or idiom is being represented and what it means. (Click each slide a second time to reveal the phrase.)

  • Chip on your shoulder—The act of holding a grudge or grievance that easily provokes a conflict or feeling entitled (slide 3).

  • Couch potato—Someone who is acting lazily or being inactive (slide 4).

  • Break a leg—A good luck wish before a performance or task (slide 5).

  • Beat around the bush—To omit the most pertinent information or avoid saying what is meant (slide 6).

  • Raining cats and dogs—A torrential or heavy downpour (slide 7).

Encourage students to think about how colloquial language is often unique to certain regions and might suit certain genres and audiences better than others. Can they think of reasons why? What would it be like for a nonnative English speaker to hear someone assert that the sky was raining cats and dogs? Would it be appropriate to incorporate a phrase like "cool as a cucumber" or "beating around the bush" in a college entrance essay? What about in a letter to a friend?

Display slide 8, and introduce the essential question: How do colloquialisms make our language confusing or give it clarity?

Display slide 9, and introduce the learning objectives for the lesson. Tell students that by the end of the lesson, they will be able to do the following:

  • Explore colloquial phrases in a variety of languages.

  • Identify and evaluate the positive and negative effects of colloquial language.

  • Revise a text of their choosing to incorporate or remove colloquial language based on the genre of the text and the audience.


For the next activity, sort students into groups of 2-4. Display slide 10, and pass out a set of the prepared Idioms From Around the World Card Sort cards to each group.

Introduce the Card Sort strategy to students. The Card Sort contains various idiomatic phrases from around the world. Remind students that these are phrases used colloquially in different countries—the same way we'd use phrases such as, "It's raining cats and dogs." Ask students to take a few minutes to try to match the phrases with their corresponding explanations. After students have completed their matches, discuss them as a class, and, optionally, pass out the attached Idioms From Around the World handout, which students can use to check their matches.

After the Card Sort, engage students in a whole-class discussion. Ask them what stood out to them about the phrases. Which idioms were strange or funny? Which ones made sense? Which idioms could they see incorporating into their own language? If students developed their own categories for the idioms, what categories did they identify and why?

Having now looked at and pondered idioms from different countries, display slide 11, and revisit the essential question: How do colloquialisms make our language confusing or give it clarity?


Talk with students about appropriate and expected situations for colloquial language use.

Display slide 12. There are two articles attached to this lesson—Avoiding Colloquial Language and Hey Y'all It's Okay to Use Colloquialisms (Sometimes)—that examine different sides of where and when to use colloquial language. Pass out copies of both articles to each student. Additionally, pass out two highlighters.

Introduce students to the Categorical Highlighting strategy, and ask them to use this strategy to annotate their articles. In one color, they should highlight positive effects and uses of colloquial language, and in another color, they should highlight negative effects and uses of colloquial language.

After students have finished reading, come back together for a whole-group reflection. Ask students to offer their thoughts regarding the pros and cons of colloquialism use by using a graphic organizer like the one below:

Graphic Organizer for Article Analysis

Emphasize to students that using colloquial language is natural for us, like a common code that small groups of us share. Though, as with any part of language that not all users understand, there are pros and cons. Ask students to consider when they might want to be mindful of not using colloquial language.


Students now have the option to revise either a piece of their own writing or an excerpt from The Outsiders to do one of the following:

  1. Incorporate more colloquial language.

  2. Replace instances of colloquial language with more formal language.

Either assign or let students choose whether they are incorporating more colloquial language or removing colloquial language, but keep instructions simple for students. (Do not have them do both.)

As students revise their pieces of selected text, ask them guiding questions, such as:

  • "Where can you insert idioms?" or "Where can you take idioms out and replace them with straightforward language?"

  • "Where can text such as greetings or references be replaced with regional colloquialisms?" or "Where can regional colloquialisms be replaced with straightforward greetings or references?"

Because they're working with a short piece of writing, the revision process will likely not take long. After students revise their texts, have them rewrite the revised passages on another sheet of paper.

Above: an example of replacing colloquial language in The Outsiders with more formal and straightforward language.

Invite students to volunteer to read their original and revised passages out loud to compare the differences.


Pass out the attached Cognitive Comics Template. Invite students to demonstrate the effects of colloquial language on speakers, listeners, or events, through their own Cognitive Comic. Students' comics should illustrate how meaning can change depending on the addition or subtraction of colloquial language. (Students can use the provided Cognitive Comics Template or create their own template if they want more or fewer frames.)

Share the directions with students that are detailed on slides 17 and 18:

  1. Choose one sentence from your passage that included a revision (colloquial language was either added or removed).

  2. In your frames, decide how the meaning of the communication in your passage would "look" and which characters were involved.

  3. Your comic should show a "before, during, after" flow that demonstrates the effect that colloquial language had in the text as a result of your revision.

  4. Keep in mind the Essential Question: How do colloquialisms make our language confusing or give it clarity? This is your theme!

When students are finished, have them share their comics within small groups or with the whole class. You might also consider having students post their comics on the classroom wall to be used as Anchor Charts.

Now that students have had a chance to engage with colloquial language in a variety of ways, revisit the essential question on slide 19 one last time. What do students think? Have their opinions changed from the beginning of the lesson to the end? If so, how? If not, why?