Back to School in Idioms

Back to School in Idioms

 As I prepare for the beginning of a new semester, I’m excited and a bit overwhelmed. As usual, I am attempting to accomplish more than is humanly possible by one small dedicated teacher. I do this every time despite promising Mr. C, my cat, my friends, and myself that it won’t happen again! That said, I’m going to have to reduce the frequency of the language blogs as I just can’t manage the once a week goal I had set on top of teaching, writing, taking classes, and trying to have some semblance of a balanced life. For the rest of 2017, I will be blogging only every other week. If ideas or inspiration strike, I might add a bonus blog or two.

This week’s blog examines some great idioms for finishing something, the summer, and getting back to school. These are all currently used English idioms, so you can learn them and use them confidently in your own speech. The idioms will be introduced first and then used in context. I hope you learn something and enjoy the language!  

The End Of The Road

This is used to express an ending. It can be a positive ending, but more often used to express the sadness that something is finished. Breakup songs like the one by Boyz II Men often use this phrase as well.

It’s All Over But The Shouting

I love this sports game idiom. It refers to the end of a game when one team is so far ahead of the other that there is no possible way the losing team could win, but they game still has to be played to the end. It can be used for any situation that is “finished” but still goes on until the time is up.

The Sky’s The Limit

This idiom is rather obvious to indicate that there are really no limits. It can be used when discussing most any kind of achievement.

Sowing Seeds

Sow is a great verb not used much in urban environments and has to do with planting. It is pronounced just like so and sew. Don’t you just love English! It can be used to plant anything and watch it grow. Sow seed collocates better to plant seeds.  

 Hit The Books



While sometimes we all may feel frustrated and actually want to slug or physically hit, this idiom is more about hitting with the brain. To hit the books means to open them up and study. It is usually used to express intense, not necessarily fun or easy study.

Get Thinking Cap On

This idiom is fairly straightforward. How does one come up with an idea? Put on a “thinking cap!” It is a fun, positive idiom used to express trying to come up with ideas.

As Easy As 123 or ABC

The first thing English speaking children learn is numbers and letters; thus, 123 and abc are simple basic building blocks for knowledge and relatively easy to learn. There are songs about this too.

Learn The Ropes

I love the ocean and being on boats, so sailing idioms are in my wheel house (another boat idiom that means tool box or things I can do). On a boat, especially a sailboat, ropes are very important for navigation and braking, so to sail successfully, you must know your ropes. This is another positive idiom that can be applied to most any topic.

Smooth Sailing

When the seas are calm, the sun is bright, and there’s just enough wind, then sailing is awesome! However, with a bit of storm, chaos can ensue. This idiom refers to situations that are all going well with no problems and again, can be applied to most all life circumstances.

Summer has come to the end of the road, and basically, it’s all over but the shouting. My summer class finished on a high note. My entire class passed, save the one person who quit coming. Clearly, when students put their minds to it, the sky’s the limit to their success. Despite the difficulty of studying at a college level in another language, by sowing the seeds of diligent effort and deliberate application of ideas, writing and language improvement is possible, even in 10 weeks!

Fall semester starts for me next week, so it’s time for us to hit the books again and get those thinking caps on! ESL 201 at IVC is not as easy as 123 or ABC. It is a difficult intensive class that covers a lot of ground with multiple books and essays and assignments and activities. Nonetheless, I have every confidence that my students will quickly learn the ropes of my class and have smooth sailing before they know it!

Real or Not Real?

Real or Not Real?

 The Freedom of the Press* is one of our foundational linchpins* on which American society is built. We want to make informed decisions, and this hinges* on the reporting of anything and everything that occurs in the country and the world. Even when I don’t like the news and it distresses me, as a concerned citizen, I want to know what is going on; moreover, as an educator, I have an obligation to.

The Freedom of the Press
is a Constitutional Right given in the First Amendment that states," Congress shall make no law ...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." Basically, this means that the United State government shall in no way limit or restrict the freedom of the media to investigate and report on what's happening.
linchpin is a thing, person, ideal, service, value, etc. that holds everything together; something vital to the structure of an organisation.
hinges on is an idiomatic expression used to say that one thing depends on another. For example, successful language learning depends upon or hinges on  not only the knowledge, but also the effort put into it.

This summer my class is reading the  dystopian* novel The Hunger Games. If you’ve been living under a rock* for the past few years, maybe you don’t know the three novels, the three block buster movies, and the countless other references to the topic. If so, the girl on fire is worth an investigation.


How I enjoy helping students analyze the differences between fiction and fact and how the lines blur from a story to the real world. Our essay for this unit is comparing that world to our own and finding the sadly all-to-real similarities between them.

Dystopian - a state in which the world is a terrible place, usually with a totalitarian government and destroyed environment.
Living under a rock is an idiom that means has no idea what's happening in the situation. For example, a student would have to be living under a rock in Mrs. C's class not to know how she feels about people being late to class.



Though my students have not read book 3 of the series, Mockingjay*, and maybe never will, I have and was struck* by the game played throughout the book between Peeta and Katniss as he struggled to decipher what was real and what was not real after a tortuous conditioning* experience by the Capital.

“You love me. Real or not real?,” asks Peeta. And Katniss answers, “Real.”

How can he react to a situation without knowing what is true or fake? How can we?

to be struck by an idea is an idiomatic phrase loosely based on the idea of being struck by lightening. Like a bolt of lightening out of the sky, which is forceful and rather violent, to be struck by an idea has the same kind of feeling where a strong or sudden idea hits your mind. For example, as she read the novel, she was struck by the idea that this was more than fiction because she could similarities in her own modern world.
 Conditioning comes from the phrase to be conditioned which means to be trained by someone through repetitious behavior. Conditioning is both positive and negative and takes place throughout our lives. We are conditioned by our parents for certain response, our culture for others, and our inter-personal relationships with other for even more responses. This is all a normal part of life. Negative conditioning, as used in this blog example, often comes through negative, harmful or even physically painful behavior.

Thus, it is our responsibility, however tedious and frustrating it may be, to validate the news we receive and believe and maybe even act upon.

Like Peeta, the first question we should ask is “Real or not real?”

Sources from Facebook to CNN have asked the same question and offer advice for doing just that.


Here are 3 Quick Questions

that we can all incorporate into our daily news cycle

to help us decide the veracity of information.

Where is the information coming from? Is it a trusted, well-known source?

Established news agencies, biased or not, have confirmation standards and legal requirements that must be followed. If are reading a source you have never heard of before, it just might not be true.


Are there any primary sources cited?

When things happen in today’s world, everyone wants to talk about them. News crews interview anyone even remotely connect to the situation. Companies give statements. If there is no primary source provided in a news report, it just might not be true.


Can it be verified by another established source? Can it be fact checked?

Verifiable facts should be reported by multiple news agencies. There are actually fact checking organizations like and Snopes. There are actual lists of such agencies readily found with a quick google search. If you can’t confirm it with a quick search, it just might not be true.

In a perfect world, that elusive Utopian* society with “a brotherhood of man” in John Lenon’s Imagine*, we wouldn’t have to worry about fake news reports as people would equally share all the world; however, that’s not yet our world.


The scarily familiar dictatorship of The Hunger Games, where the good of the few demands a yearly sacrifice of the many, thank goodness, is not a reality in the United States as of now though there are certainly places in the world where such situations do exist.


To make sure that doesn’t become our reality, we have a responsibility to know the differences between fantasy and fiction, between propaganda* and truth, and between the real and not real.

Utopia is defined by Merriam Webster's Learner dictionary as, "an imaginary place in which the government, laws, and social conditions are perfect."


Propaganda is misleading or incorrect information  used to promote a particular point of view.


I wholeheartedly advocate* one’s right to make personal life choices. It is not ever my job to tell someone what to think or what to believe.


However, as an educator, I do have the responsibility to encourage thinking, questioning, and analyzing. I believe in using facts to form my opinions.

Advocate means to support or recommend a particular cause. It can also be used with for as in in advocate for a cause. Finally, the noun is spelled the same though pronounced differently. For example, The student advocate advocates for student rights. Don't you just love English?!?


Critical Thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of issues to form judgement.



Personal Beliefs are the convictions one uses to guide his or her life.




Therefore, I encourage everyone, including myself, that before we form our conclusions and make our decisions, we start actively asking the question is this idea, article, picture, and even person

Real or Not Real?

Idioms in Human

Idioms in Human

I love this song. 


Merriam Webster’s dictionary (my personal fav!) defines human as having characteristics or attributes of humans, but what does it mean to be human in today’s world?

This week I had the wonderful opportunity (as usual with my awesome job!) to talk with humans from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds, Chinese, Korean, Brazilian, Syrian, Iranian, Afghan, Egyptian, Japanese, Vietnamese, and even American. I spoke with the motivated, optimistic, driven and grateful as well as the disheartened, jaded, indolent, and entitled. I made people laugh, and I made people cry.  I learned from teachers and students, mothers and fathers, engineers and artists, friends and enemies, and too many more to list. Together we all makeup humanity.

This song is about being human, about the actions we take both good and bad. What if we accentuated the good and diminished the bad? Just how much might we accomplish in the world?

Here are a few of the idiomatic phrases in the song "Human" by Christina Perri. Most of these phrases are used every day in American speech and writing.

Hold One's Breath

Idiomatically means to wait or delay until something happens.

For example: 

He’s been applying for jobs all over town while holding his breath that someone will call.

Also it's often used in negative advice to tell someone to give up the idea.

As in the following conversation:

Student 1: I think I’ll get into the morning class this fall.

Student 2: Don’t hold your breath! You’re number 24 on the waitlist!

Bite My Tongue

Idiomatically both mean to NOT say the negative words you are thinking

For example:

When she told me she didn’t like my new logo, I really had to bite my tongue! Who asked her anyway?

Also, it is often used in advice to tell someone to be quiet.

As in the following conversation:

Student 1: I want to go home early today, so when Mrs. C asks the class questions, just hold your tongue, alright?

Student 2: Got it!



Hold My Tongue

Fake a Smile

*Painted on Smile

Idiomatically , both mean to smile without the feeling of happiness behind it often for manipulative or deceptive purposes.

For example:

Did you see that fake smile she gave you? I mean really, doesn’t she know that you know what she said about you to the instructor?

Idiomatically, it means to give an unnatural laugh to cover up other emotions or used out of politeness for someone else’s not funny information.

For example:

I forced myself to laugh at his comment, but left as soon as I could.

Force a Laugh

Play the Part

*Act as if

*Fake it until you make it

In theater, actors take on roles or characters for a purpose. We do the same thing in life. Idiomatically, it means whether for good or bad reasons, to act in an expected behavioral role.

For example:

A newly graduated linguistic student might not feel like a teacher yet, but when she walks into the classroom, she plays the part of the instructor. She will fake it until she makes it.

An ESL student might not feel comfortable in conversations with native English speaking classmates, but he can play the part or act as if he is until it becomes a reality.

Crash and Burn (or Breakdown)

Idiomatically, it means to fail spectacularly

For example:

I just finished my first book in the GramEd series. It's the biggest thing I've done to date. I hope it doesn't crash and burn.



Turn It On

Idiomatically, used to mean to be at your best in the situation, rather like turning on a light.

For example:

So, when I’m in the classroom, I turn my energy on, my language knowledge on, my compassion on, etc. Even if I don’t feel like being there that day, I turn it on.


Be A (Good) Machine

Idiomatically, it means to be robotic, to do the job at hand without emotions getting in the way

For example:

When I have to talk to a student who plagiarized in an essay, I have to be a good teaching machine. I can’t be swayed by their excuses or tears.

Words (Voice) in My Head


Idiomatically,  a negative meaning is usually literal: an auditory imaginative “voice” in one’s head with negative thoughts, which is often used to refer to schizophrenic people's symptoms.

Idiomatically, it can be positive as in one’s one thoughts or ideas driving to success. The voices in our heads can be our own, or they can be others motivating ideas.

For example:

when I first started teaching, I spent a great deal of time with mentor teachers. Their words and wisdom became the voices or words in my head during tough classroom situations. Now, I have been teaching for a while, so I have my own success and failures. Now, I can talk myself through problems. I am my own voice in my head.

Weight of the World

Idiomatically, it means when a person is weighed down by obligations or responsibilities, he or she feels as his or her actions carry the future of the world.

For example:

International students with their families expectations, cultural adjustments, and scholastic demands often carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

*knife in the back

Idiomatically, it means a deep emotional wound because of a betrayal or deep hurt caused by another's words or actions.

For example:

Nothing I did reached my failing student, and after flunking the level for the third time, she had to leave school. When that she told me I was the worst teacher she’d ever encountered and I should give up the profession, it was a knife in my heart.

Knives in My Heart

Fall Apart

*Wheels Fall Off The Bus

Idiomatically, both these phrases mean things aren't going well.

For example:

Yesterday the wheels really fell off the bus! I couldn’t find my keys, so I was late leaving the house, there was an accident on the freeway, the air conditioner in the classroom wasn’t working, and half of the class didn’t bring their books! I fell apart and sent them all on break early!

We are all human.

What if we all turned on kindness and empathy for others? Instead of carrying the weight of the world all alone, what if we helped each other carry the load?

Let’s bite our tongues when others beliefs don’t match our own. Let’s stop faking smiles and reach into our own hearts and find true emotion. Let’s stop being good machines and start being living, breathing, feeling humans. Let’s learn to play the part of empathetic, caring individuals until the part becomes reality.

Let’s all become the positive voices in the heads of the world.

Let’s represent humanity in such a way that is a honor to say I’m human.

Metamorphosing with Quotes

Metamorphosing with Quotes

This week’s blog is a personal response to something happening in my own life incorporating applicable quotes to support my ideas. In my summer writing class, we have been studying the quote sandwich. Today’s lesson exemplifies embedded quotes.

Metamorphosing – Trying Something New with Quotations

I’m a teacher, and I love my job. Yet, for my entire life, I have dreamed of being a writer. I’ve always wanted to write. As a child, I wrote my own stories and poems. As a student, I loved reading the literature greats. The transcendental nature of words fascinated me. However, I did not major in literature or journalism. Though I have always wanted to write, I had nothing to say, no driving ideas, or no passion of thought. Also, I am eminently practical and needed a solid career, so I choose to embrace my love of words and become a writing instructor. With an academic background in English, Linguistics, and Reading, I have become proficient at aiding student writers in learning to put their ideas on paper. Watching a student realize the power of good language, the persuasiveness of clear logic, and the possibility of emotional connection validates my career choice and give me great joy. Mastering good writing has enabled countless of my students to meet their personal goals, whatever they may have been. It has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

Through teaching, I have found something to say. I have many driving ideas. I have an extreme passion for empowering students to themselves write well.

And I never lost my desire to write. Toni Morrison once claimed, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” There are tons of books on the market for ESL, for writing, and for college; nevertheless, there is a lack in some areas. One book might have great grammar but less than stellar examples while another is too broad for my purposes. I realized that the exact topics I wanted were not yet written, so I decided I would have to write them.

“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try,” argued Jim Tully. So, I tried.

I wrote in 2012, the first small book on student communication. It was only 100 pages. It had great ideas but huge gaps in structure and style. It was the best I could do when I did it. I used in in my classes, students learned, and life was good. But, it wasn’t an A effort. As an instructor myself, I’d have to score it a C-. I wondered if I was really cut out for this writing thing.

Sylvia Path claimed, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” I understand self-doubt. I don’t have a degree in writing or formal training. I am only an adjunct instructor, not accomplished, nothing special, so who was I kidding that I could do this?

I was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s idea that “we have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” As a writing instructor, I did know what good writing looked like. I could recognize good wings, I just had to learn to stretch my own and do it. I had to be like Anne Frank who cried, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

With a similar reborn courage, years later, I tried again. I followed Jack London’s advice that “you can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” My club was a co-author, Lucas Nguyen, a former student, inspiring influence, and overall amazing human being on a topic I knew little about applying for medical school coupled with what I did know a lot about writing. I embraced Meg Cabot’s suggestion that I must, “write the kind of [book] you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.” This fantastic book told Lucas’ personal success story as a non-native English speaker getting into getting into medical school with advice to help others do the same. With input from others, a student reading panel, an editor, and another major contributor, this book is amazing! The material within is invaluable for students applying to medical school. Nonetheless, this too was a learning experience and had many faults. This book could be scored a B. I was getting better, but still had so far to go!

Regardless of the deficiency of the work, I had been bitten by the bug in a serious way. With the medical school book, I realized that my simple, direct way of teaching writing to ESL students could be a kind of magic. I could actually be one of William Gass’ true alchemists, not changing “lead into gold”… but changing “the world into words.” My goal of providing the accessible techniques for ESL students to create their own accomplished writing would help me to be like Mark Twain who wrote, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.” I want my books to be like water to the thirsty ESL student trying to survive in an English speaking desert. Like Ernest Hemingway, “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

I continued to grow as a teacher and as a writer. I learned more about the process, about editing, about graphics and publishing and so much more. Larry L. King explained how to improve one’s writing by exhorting stating, “Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” Today after 18 months of writing and rewriting a new book, I have submitted it for final review. It is the best thing I’ve ever written. I am so excited to release it in August. Finally, after all my effort, experience, and growth, I believe this book can be scored an A.

What does my journey have to do with your life?

Everyone single person has skills. She has something she loves to do. He has something he is good at. If they are lucky, what they love is what they are good at and hopefully even make a living with. But that is not true for many people. Many of us do things that we have to do.

So, what’s the point?

Something never comes from nothing. You can build upon whatever skills you have mastered in your life thus far. You don’t have to start over in your life but can metamorphose from one thing to another even as I am doing from an writing instructor to an instructor who both writes and instructs. Neil Gaiman said of writing, “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard, and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” The same idea could be applied to whatever it is you are trying to accomplish one action, one day, one failure at a time. I believe you can do it. I believe I can do it too. I believe that we will keep going until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.

Idioms in “Firework”

Idioms in “Firework”

It’s 4th of July, our nation’s birthday, a time for celebrations with friends and family and fireworks! I love fireworks. As I thought about this week’s blog, I, of course, went to Katy Perry’s awesome rocky song, “Firework.” I had thought to explore firework idioms, but upon listening to her song, I realized it was full of idioms in itself. So, today’s topic is the examination of the idioms in the song.

This song, as many of Perry’s songs, has a ton of cultural references. Here are two basic categories: negative situations and positive ones. The negative ones are how people might be feeling because of life circumstance, and the positive ones are Perry’s suggestions for overcoming them.

Negative Cultural Idioms

Paper Thin

Think about a sheet of notebook paper. It is easily torn because it is so thin.

This phrase is used to describe feeling inadequate for a task; it can also be used to mean overextended as in

“The ESL 301 summer class has me feeling paper thin!”

House of Cards

When you build something with playing cards, even a breath can cause it to crumble. It is not substantial or secure. Similarly, if you are in a house of cards, this means your situation is precarious. For example,

“Not taking control of your own grammar in writing means your grade is built on a house of cards.”

Cave In

This is another way to express a complete collapse since when the roof of a cave falls down, the entire structure can be destroyed. Hence,

“Being late to Mrs. C’s class over and over is causing our academic relationship to cave in.”

Buried deep (or under) AND 6-feet under

In the USA, one of the ways we take care of the deceased is by burying them in the ground, generally at least 6-feet deep.

There was a very poplular HBO drama in the early 2000’s titled “Six Feet Under” about a mortician family. You can read about it if you're interested.

To be buried 6-feet under is also used to refer to being completely overwhelmed. So, you might say,

“I am being buried six-feet under by all the work in the ESL 301 summer class."

Waste of Space

This is a phrase that comes from space in a room that is too small or inconvenient to be a productive part of the house. However, it is usually applied to people as someone who is “wasting” space on the planet is not contributing in a meaningful way. One could say then that

“Students who don’t participate in class are just a waste of space.”

Closed Door

This is an obvious reference to closing something off. This can be used for “private” or “exclusive” situation like a “closed-door meeting.” It can also be used an in the opportunity or path is no longer accessible, so the “door” has been closed. For example,

“Being a writing instructor takes all my time so being a supermodel is a closed door for me!”

Positive  Idiomatic Overcoming References


This has multiple meanings, but the most applicable here is that a spark is used to start a fire. Similarly, an idea or thought can spark action in a person. Thus, because my goal as a writing instructor is to “spark” critical thinking and life change in my students, I could say

"The lesson that compared the writing process to creating a recipe in the kitchen really sparked a lot of critical thoughts in my ESL 301 class." 


Let Your Light Shine

This is an interesting reference that has both a physical and religious one. If you think of a lighthouse which lights up the safe path on the ocean for ships, similarly, letting your positive spirit shine out can light the way for others. Another meaning is based Matthew 5:16 that states “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” With either reference, the idea is the same: letting your thoughts or deeds come out of you like a “light” so that others can see. Thus,

“Mrs. C’s passion for good writing is a shining light  for her ESL 301 class.”

Own the Night

When you own something, you are technically its master. “To own” is often used to demonstrate mastery of some skill or situation. To own the night means to take full advantage of the situation, to be the boss of it. If you own the night, it could mean that you own the stars, the universe, the whole world!  It could be used in various contexts, but here’s one:

“My ESL 301 students really owned Essay 1 this summer!”


What You’re Worth

A more common usage of this term is “for what It’s worth” which is used to express one’s personal opinion on a topic as opposed to an expert opinion. The usage of “what you’re worth” in the song implies that you are worth a great deal and you need to embrace it! For instance,

“I don’t think my graphic designer understands what he’s worth, but I sure do! I think he’s awesome!”

After the Hurricane

Comes the Rainbow

Another common usage of this idea is that after a storm comes a rainbow. Physically, it is true. Rainbows often occur after there’s been a lot of rain. Idiomatically, what it means is that dark times or storms will come to everyone’s life, but nothing lasts forever. The beauty and majesty of a rainbow, positive aspects of life, will follow darkness. We have lots of idiomatic expressions for this idea; one of my favorites is “it is always darkest before the dawn.”  Another is “there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” So, for my summer writing students,

"We are starting week 5, so we are at the half-way point! See the light at the end of the tunnel!"






Lightning Bolt

While this image has both positive and negative aspects, here I believe it used as the idiomatic expression “be struck by lightning.” Physically, were this phenomenon to occur, a person would receive an electrical shock; similarly, if someone receives an emotional or mental jolt, she could be “struck by lightning.” In fact, great inventors are often said to be struck by the lightning of an idea. This could be used to describe any great idea that occurs. Thus, you might write,

“I got the lightning bolt of the importance of emotional intelligence as I read the article for Essay 2 in my ESL 301 class.”

Perfect Road

There are too many cultural references for this idiomatic idea to even begin to list them all. One of my favorites has to be “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. You can listen and read it below.

The general idea is that life and our choices in life are all on a road and some roads are better than others. Thus, there is a “perfect” road for everyone, but everyone’s roads are different because we are all uniquely individual. So, I might say that

“Teaching at IVC is my perfect road to give me time to both instruct students and write books.”



Now that you’ve looked at the idioms, give the song another listen. One of the things I really like about Perry is she is motivating, and she weaves so many sophisticated ideas throughout her pop music.

This fourth of July as you watch the fireworks in person or on tv and celebrate our nation’s independence, I hope you are motivatedd to be you own firework, to have your own independent, wonderful path and follow it where ever it leads!

A Cycle of Flow

A Cycle of Flow

In my writing summer class, we are beginning the Emotional Intelligence (EI) Unit. I love this subject. So many conflicts among groups could be avoided if we all just had a bit more EI. One of my favorite aspects of this subject (and there are so many awesome ones, it is difficult to choose a favorite!) is flow.

What is flow? My beloved Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary defines flow as “an easy smooth and uninterrupted progress or movement” in thought, ideas, or rhythm. My own personal definition is that flow is happening when everything is going smoothly and effortless. In writing, flow happens when the ideas stream forth, and the words seem to almost form themselves. In the classroom, flow happens when the students are engaged and understand the topic while enjoying the process. I strive to have flow. I absolutely love flow!

Who wouldn’t?

Unfortunately, flow doesn’t happen without extreme effort. Moreover, sometimes, no matter how much time and energy we put into a task, there is just no flow! Those times can be particularly frustrating. Once you know what flow feels like and the productivity and excellence it can generate, it is super difficult to settle for less.

So, how do we create flow and how do we handle it when flow just doesn’t occur?

Like so many other things, there is a formula for flow. Here it is: when a person’s skill level is equal to or slightly below the attempted task, flow can occur.


Easy, right?

No, not so much. Skill level varies from individual to individual and even within one individual performing different tasks.

Take me for example. Since as I teacher I create all kinds of curriculum handouts and such, I am pretty good with MS Word. Moreover, I’m a writer and self-publisher too, so I know quite a few tricks. My skill level is up to most tasks. When I’m writing in word, I’m usually flowing along. But not always. As I progress in my activities, I raise the bar and try new things. Then, my skill level is no longer equal to the task; I am below level. When this happens, I get frustrated and anxious. There’s a formula for that too.

When a person’s skill level is lower than the attempted task, frustration and anxiety can occur. The further the distance between the two, the more frustration that will occur.


Well, then, why push it? Once you find your flow, why not just stay there and merrily flow through all the tasks? Good question. Once you find your flow, you feel great. Everything you are doing goes well. It’s like you are on the top of the world! So, why not just stay there forever?

Boredom is why. Yes, you can actually get bored with the flow. Hard to imagine, I know, but it’s true. When a person’s skill level is higher than the attempted task, boredom occurs.


The more time you spend at a particular level, the more your skill develops through repetition and effort. Your skill level grows and grows, but the task stays the time. Sooner or later, you will outgrow the task and encounter boredom.

Let’s look back to my example. Simply creating resources for my classes and running a website used to be fun! It used to get me in FLOW. But, over time, I got better and better. The tasks got easier and easier; boredom set in. Teaching alone wasn’t fun anymore.

So what did I do? What do you do once you get good at something and start to get bored? Attempt a harder task, which then, of course, results in FRUSTRATION until you reach the FLOW, that will eventually become boredom and then whole circle repeats.

It’s an endless cycle as we search for that amazing feeling, that sweet spot we call FLOW.

Let’s look at the cycle in action.

Here’s a real-life example of the flow cycle.

I’ve been working on my latest book, Editing Academic Texts Verb Form, for about 18 months now. Because I have been teaching grammar, writing, and editing for since 1999, knowing what I wanted to say at first was easy. I was smack dab in the middle of FLOW. Ooooo, how I love to FLOW!

Even when I was blocking out the chapters and deciding how to organize the material while talking students, I was still in FLOW. It was difficult, of course, but manageable.

Eventually, I hit the wall of FRUSTRATION in the nitty-gritty aspects of formatting. I seriously seriously hate formatting page numbers. I make so many mistakes. The stupid numbers give me nightmares. My personal skill level in managing anything to do with numbers is lower than low. So, for the last few weeks, my FRUSTRATION level has been ginormous! But, I knew it would not last. I have techniques to get through that period and slowly move back to FLOW by learning something new and increasing my skill level to meet the task. And then it happened. Wednesday night at 11:32 pm (way past my normal bed-time), it all came together. All the videos I’d watched, the help pages I’d read, the examples from Eric and Joe I’d looked at- it all came together. I got it. My skill level jumped. I did it! Ahhhhhh, once again, the FLOW.

Have I mentioned how much I love FLOW?

Now, all the tiny little details are being resolved, and I’m getting bored. I’m rather sick of this book, this project. It’s been 18 months after all. I’m not quite all the way to BOREDOM, but I can see it up ahead. I’m planning to enjoy my FLOW for a bit longer, get the book out for the fall semester, and then dive into the next book, Editing Academic Texts Verb Form. As I do so, I know I’ll cycle through all three stages again and again, but I will definitely enjoy the FLOW as long as I can.

What tasks are you trying in your life right now? Are you experiencing FRUSTRATION, FLOW, or BOREDOM? Keep in mind that none of the stages last.

If you are in FRUSTRATION because your skill level is not high enough yet, don’t despair.

Keep building it. You’ll reach FLOW eventually if you keep at it. I promise!

If you are in the middle of BOREDOM, you know what you have to do. Push yourself. Try something new. Try something harder.
Yes, it will send you into FRUSTRATION, but how much fun are you having being bored? Not much I’d guess.

If you are in the smallest space of them all, the FLOW, enjoy every minute while it lasts!!

Always Stay Humble and Kind

Always Stay Humble and Kind

Listening to music provides so many benefits, especially for language learners.  Cultural priorities are revealed through songs. Correct and incorrect grammar is used too. Idioms and advice run throughout music. The segments are also short, often less than 3 minutes, so that you can listen over and over again to catch certain phrases or rhythms. You can hear what phrases can be shortened or smashed and what words are emphasized for meaning. Frankly, I think listening to music is overlooked by many students in their pursuit of better language.

There are so many awesome songs to consider when designing lessons, but today I’ve picked a song by Tim McGraw in the country western music genre for its message, ease of understanding, and amount of applicable language.



I suggest you listen to the song. Then read through the explanations of idioms, cultural references, language specifics, American values, and behavioral advice. Then listen to the song again, hopefully with a fuller understanding of the content.

“mountains to climb”

The mountain is a metaphor for any large task be it getting a new job, learning a new language, succeeding in someway or another, or countless others.  The task should be large like a mountain towering over the plain. In climbing the mountain, you in some ways “beat” the mountain. In achieving the task, you have victory in the situation as well.

“free ride”

This can be used in the obvious way as in a ride where you don’t pay, but more commonly in a broader sense to mean not have to pay for an action or experience.It is often used when getting a full scholarship to college as in “he got a free ride to college.”

“pick up line”

This is the idiom used for an insincere or lying phrase used to engage someone in a conversation for the purpose of having a fling or brief relationship, usually sexual.

“sleeping with someone”

This does not refer to actual sleeping but means to engage in sexual intercourse. A similar idiom is “to go to bed with someone” which means the same thing.

“take for granted”

This idiomatic phrase can be used in a multitude of contexts. It means be unappreciative of a positive something, for example, a relationship or gift.

“a light that glows by the front door”

Leaving the porch light on is a common theme in American culture. You’ll find it in songs and even advertisements.  Motel 6, for example, says “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

When you come home late at night, and it’s dark outside, having the light at the door is a welcoming sight. It’s easier to find your keys. You know that someone is expecting you to come home. 


“the key’s under the mat”

It isn’t safe to leave your house unlocked, but you want to allow friends to come in even if you aren’t home. Why do you do? Leave a spare key for special visitors and tell them where it is hidden. In fact, this is so common that you can buy a fake rock to hide a spare key for someone. Having access to this key shows that you are welcome in the home.

rock with a key inside

“eat a root beer popsicle”

Popsicles are frozen treats generally associated with childhood and summertime. In the summer, American children are usually out of school with fewer responsibilities and are running around just having fun. By using this reference, it suggests that we all should relax a bit and have some fun.

“when the work you’ve put in is realized”

Most accomplishments require a great deal of effort or work. You put in work or put work or effort into something. While the verb realize is most often used for coming to an understanding of an idea, it can also be used for getting the result of something, like extreme effort.


“stay humble and kind”

Humble and kind are both adjectives and most often used with linking verbs like be, seem, and become. However, in this case, the normally transitive verb stay is being used with the adjective in a kind of command form. No action is really taking place because the actor is already humble or kind, so he is just staying in the same state.

“cause your momma says to”

Like in most cultures, the American family relationship is significant.  In most families, pleasing one’s parents, especially mom, is very important. There is actually a standard phrase said by American parents “because I said so.” This indicates children should do what their told, even when they don’t understand or agree because the parent told them to.

“visit grandpa every chance you can”

Because most Americans don’t live with their extended families (grandparents, aunts, and uncles, etc.), immigrants often interpret this to mean that we don’t care about our families.  In fact, we do care quite a bit; it is just much more difficult to have those familial relationships so extra effort must be taken and with most things American, it is a choice, not a requirement.


“don’t forget to turn back around and help the next one in line”

While we are absolutely a nation of striving individuals seeking our own goals, we are also a nation of caring individuals who desire to be part of a successful community. Helping others along the way actually advances our own success.

“Hold the door, say ‘please,’ say ‘thank you,’

These actions are essential social courtesies, the actions of ladies and gentlemen, who are considerate of others. Though children used to be automatically taught these behaviors, social graces today are often lacking as we are all so self-absorbed and stressed out.

“don’t steal, don’t cheat and don’t lie”

Unlike social niceties, these actions refer to following the law. While America is certainly a place of great individual freedom, we do have quite a few laws for the good of the many. Obeying the law is usually a good idea.

“shut off the AC and roll the windows down. Let that summer sun shine”

This is another summer reference to getting away from the technology, the house, and the stress of it all and enjoying life for a minute.  Taking time to relax will help you to be more balanced and an overall happier person.

 There are so many fantastic resources available to help you along in your language journey. Study doesn't always have to be an intense experience. Sometimes, you can just have some fun with it! Try using music to have a bit of fun and learn cool stuff too!

A Fresh Start  with idioms

A Fresh Start with idioms

Hello Again.

It’s been a while since I’ve been with you.

I put the blog on the bench for a month or so because I ran out of steam at the end of the semester and hit the wall big time. I was absolutely ready to throw in the towel. I simply had to dial back my work because I was overwhelmed with health issues and stressed with wrapping up the Spring semester. As usual, I overshot the mark of my ability to create because I bit off more than I could chew.

After taking a break for a couple of weeks, changing my diet, and generally recharging my batteries, I am raring to go again and get back on track with the website. Thus, this weekly blog output is back in the game!

Given all I am committed to this summer, teaching, tutoring, finishing the book, eating healthier, exercising more, losing weight, and trying to find general balance in my life, blogging every week will certainly require me to go the extra mile! Nonetheless, I have put my heart into this website, and I want it to succeed. So, every Sunday morning, I will be bright eyed and bushy tailed in my desire to continue to provide you, my wonderful language learners, with interesting vocabulary, culture, and life information!

Each of the underlined idioms above

are defined below.

 On The Bench

To be inactive or uninvolved in the activity or game

Run Out Of Steam

To lose energy to the point of having stop

Hit The Wall
To be forced to stop

Throw in the Towel

To give up or quit.

Dial It Back

To slow down or reduce the effort

Overshot The Mark

To miss or not achieve one’s goal.

Bite Off More Than Can Chew
to try to do the impossible

Recharge my Batteries

To relax and renew one’s energy or spirit

Raring to Go

To be excited and ready to perform

Back on Track

To be ready to work or perform

Back in the Game

To be ready to work or perform effectively

Go The Extra Mile
To put in extra effort to accomplish the goal

Put Heart Into It

To be committed to or engaged in an activity or event

Bright eyed and Bushy Tailed
To be excited or ready to perform

So what is the main idea of today's blog post underneath all the idioms?

I stopped blogging because I was tired and stressed.

However, now I am rested, refreshed, and ready to write again.

Notice all the interesting, idiomatic ways we have in English to express these basic ideas.

Awesome, isn't it?

Please remember, as amazingly fun as idioms are, they are not considered academic in nature. Use them all you wish in conversation! But in college writing, it is better to be direct and to the point rather than using idiomatic language!

So, I'm getting a fresh start with the blog. 

See you next week!

Come back soon now! Ya hear?


At the request of my students, I am starting this blog with the vocabulary. Take a minute and review the definitions and idioms below before reading Chapter 2: Meet Larry. The idioms are indicated with an *.

Take a minute and review the definitions and idioms below before reading Chapter 2: Meet Larry. The idioms are indicated with an *.


Chapter 2:Vocabulary and Quick Definitions

oaf – not working
laid-back – relaxed and calm
devil-may-care – unworried
malinger- avoid work through lying about health
melee- large confusing fight
mull over – think deeply
*meaning of life – reason for existence
unmask – discover truth
high-end – luxurious
pompadour – hair style
tenebrous – obscure; hard to understand
work ethic – valuing hard work
erratic - inconsistent
fidelity – faithfulness

outlandish- extremely unusual
*higgledy-piggledy – messy unordered
jocund – lively, spirited
*weld together – bind together usually used with people
*buddy-buddy – very friendly
altruism – unselfish helpfulness
salutary- beneficial
subvention-financial support
quicken- reinforce
destitute – extremely poor
oneiric - dreamy
*life of leisure – work-free

Read the paragraph below with the new vocabulary that you've learned.

Meet Larry

Lazy Loafing Larry likes a laidback lifestyle. His devil-may-care attitude often causes him to malinger. Rather than entering the competitive modern melee of the working man, Larry prefers to mull over the meaning of life and unmask the secrets to success while styling his high-end pompadour. While his tenebrous work ethic drives some people away from his erratic fidelity to outlandish habits, his higgledy-piggledy jocund personality can weld together the already buddy-buddy crowd. They, with a show of altruism, often give Larry a salutary subvention and further quicken his rather destitute yet oneiric existence. Thus, Larry lives a life of leisure.

How much did you understand?

What kind of person is Larry? What are some of his characteristics? Would you want to be his friend? His boss? Why or why not?

Now would be a good time to rewrite the paragraph using the new vocabulary definitions. In class last week, I had my students do it. Do you want to try yourself?

If not,  here's my revised version.

Lazy Loafing Larry likes a relaxed lifestyle. His unworried attitude often causes him to avoid working. Rather than entering the competitive modern fight of the working man, Larry prefers to think about his reason for existence and discover secrets to success while styling his expensive hair style.  His obscure work ethic drives some people away from his inconsistent faithfulness to unusual habits; his unordered lively personality can bind together the already friendly crowd. They, with a show of helpfulness, often give Larry a beneficial financial support and further reinforce his rather poor yet dreamy existence. Thus, Larry lives a work free life.

Vocab matters! These paragraphs are obviously particularly dense, but the principles we are learning are the same whether i every other word or only one or two words is confusing.

With time and practice, your vocabulary can be improved!

Chapter 1: AAWWWLLL

Chapter 1: AAWWWLLL

The Antithetical Adventures

of Wanda Wonder Worker

and Loafing Lazy Larry

This blog and the subsequent ones for a while will be going through the Wanda and Larry’s story to develop your advanced vocabulary usage. This is the first chapter.

Follow these steps to use this story to improve your English vocabulary.

Don’t panic when you don’t understand the story. If you did, I would be shocked! Just read the Original Story and make a note of the vocabulary you don’t understand. Without looking up any of the words, try and understand as much as you can. 

Then ask yourself these Comprehension Questions about the content:

  1. What kind of person is Wanda? How would you classify her?
  2. Would you want to work with Wanda? Be friends with her? Why or why not?
  3. Explain in your own words Wanda’s personality.

Then look at the vocabulary words I defined for you. I mainly used Merriam Webster’s Learner Dictionary. Look up any other words you don’t understand. Then read the story with the replaced, simplified vocabulary and see how much you understand. The replaced vocabulary is underlined. Better?

Now, try again to answer the Comprehension Questions.

If you still don’t feel like you understand the story, look at the Idioms I explained for you. Then read the story with the replaced, simplified phrases and see how much you understand. The replaced idiomatic phrases are underlined. Better?

Try again to answer the comprehension questions.

Finally, re-read the original story. How much more do you understand now? Hopefully, more of it!

If you want even more knowledge, try the Advanced Grammar Practice at the end.

Original Story: Chapter 1

Some people have an aversion to labor, but not Wanda Wonder Worker. She is all gung ho about scrupulous effort and gets her jollies by doing too much with too little. For Wanda, every circumstance is an opportunity to sizzle and shine. She can take the ubiquitous hubbub and with a little impetus, add a few odds and ends and a gizmo or two; then presto, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge. Though she might be a nitpicker of someone exhibiting otiose apathy and even want to give him a thwack on the back to get him going, she also delivers a droll knee-jerk reaction to any request with a quip yes without even conserving her strength. She likes to bask in a diet of blithe over-achievement. Wanda is one of a kind.

New Vocabulary Quick Definitions

Scrupulous- carefully correct

Ubiquitous – seen everywhere

Hubbub – noisy situation

Impetus – force to cause action

Gizmo – small gadget

Presto – happen magically

Nitpicker – concerned with small unimportant details

Otiose - futile

Apathy- not interested

Thwack – to strike

Droll – odd and amusing

Quip – clever remark

Bask – relax happily

Blithe – worry free

Revised Chapter 1: Simple Vocabulary

*The underlined words are phrases are the replacement ideas for the more sophisticated vocabulary defined above.*

Some people have a dislike of labor, but not Wanda Wonder Worker. She is all gung ho about carefully correct effort and gets her jollies by doing too much with too little. For Wanda, every circumstance is an opportunity to sizzle and shine. She can take the noisy situation happening all around and with a little forceful action, add a few odds and ends and a small gadget or two; then like magic, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge. Though she might be concerned with the details for someone exhibiting futile disinterest and even want to give him a thump on the back to get him going, she also delivers an amusing knee-jerk reaction to any request with a clever comment yes without even conserving her strength. She likes to relax in a diet of worry free overachievement. Wanda is one of a kind.

New Idioms Quick Explainations

Gung Ho – extremely excited

Gets her jollies – becomes excited

Sizzle and shine – stand out excellently

Odds and ends- small, unimportant things

Knee-jerk reaction - automatic

One of a kind – unique and original

Revised Chapter 1: No Idioms

*The underlined words are phrases are replacing the idiomatic expressions explained above.*

Some people have a dislike of labor, but not Wanda Wonder Worker. She is all excited about carefully correct effort and gets excited by doing too much with too little. For Wanda, every circumstance is an opportunity to stand out excellently. She can take the noisy situation happening all around and with a little forceful action, add a few small, unimportant things and a small gadget or two; then like magic, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge. Though she might be concerned with the details for someone exhibiting futile disinterest and even want to give him a thump on the back to get him going, she also delivers an amusing automatic reaction to any request with a clever comment yes without even conserving her strength. She likes to relax in a diet of worry free over achievement. Wanda is unique.

Reread the Original Story

Some people have an aversion to labor, but not Wanda Wonder Worker. She is all gung ho about scrupulous effort and gets her jollies by doing too much with too little. For Wanda, every circumstance is an opportunity to sizzle and shine. She can take the ubiquitous hubbub and with a little impetus, add a few odds and ends and a gizmo or two; then presto, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge. Though she might be a nitpicker of someone exhibiting otiose apathy and even want to give him a thwack on the back to get him going, she also delivers a droll knee-jerk reaction to any request with a quip yes without even conserving her strength. She likes to bask in a diet of blithe over-achievement. Wanda is one of a kind.

 Advanced Grammar Practice

  1. Find two instances of alliteration
  2. Find one instance of rhyme
  3. Identify all the parts of speech in this sentence:

She can take the ubiquitous hubbub and with a little impetus, add a few odds and ends and a gizmo or two; then presto, a tidy solution to the chaotic mess will emerge.

Advanced English is difficult, to say the least. Little by little, word by word, with much effort and time, you can be able to understand the original paragraph!  Let’s see if it gets a bit easier as you work through the story!

Check back next week for Chapter 2 and the answers to the Advanced Grammar Practice for Chapter 1!