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Valentine's Day Hearts for ELL

Valentine's Day Hearts for ELL

Judie Haynes

Valentine’s Day provides an excellent opportunity to introduce the concept of idiomatic language to intermediate English language learners (ELLs) in Grades 3-12. This unit gives students an occasion to extend their communicative competence in informal settings. It provides them with experience in learning and using language “chunks” and negotiating meaning with native speakers. Students also have the chance to present their work to the mainstream peers and join in group response at an appropriate time.

Lesson topic

Idioms with “Heart”
Proficiency/Grade level
Advanced Beginning to High Intermediate; Grades 3-12

Goal and Standard

Goal 1, Standard 3: To use English to communicate in social settings: Students will use learning strategies to extend their communicative competence.

Content Concepts and Skills

Vocabulary: feelings, generous, caring, giving, afraid, concerned, sympathetic, jealous, scared, nervous, worried, hurt

Concepts: Use of idiomatic language in English

Background Information: Feelings; friendship

Materials or Resources

1. Books about friendship which are appropriate to the age and ability level of your students:

Bedtime for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban
Friends by Helme Heine
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
A Rainbow of Friends by P.K. Hallinan
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Isabelle and the Angel by Thierry Magnier, Georg Hallensleben (Illustrator)
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and Donna Diamond (Illustrator)

2. List of “heart” idioms with definition

to have a heart of gold – to care about other people
to have a big heart – to be giving, caring
to be cold-hearted lacking in sympathy
to wear your heart on your sleeve
to let everyone know how you feel about someone
to cross your heart and hope to die to promise
to cry your heart out – to cry a lot and feel really badly about something
to eat your heart out – to be jealous of someone
from the bottom of your heart – to really mean something
to have a change of heart -to change your mind
to have a heart – to be compassionate, to care about other people
to have your heart in your mouth
to be scared or nervous
to have your heart set on something – to really want something
to set your heart at rest – stop worrying about something
to be soft hearted – to be sympathetic
to take something to heart- to have your feelings hurt by something someone else says or does


This lesson was designed to be covered during five days of instruction (30 minutes each day). Students review basic emotions and feelings needed to complete this unit. Literature about friendship can also be included in the introduction to this unit as it provides a natural way to talk about the language.

Print the idioms from the above list on the board. Use a shorter list for younger students. Students then brainstorm what each idiom sounds like it means. For example, “to have your heart in your mouth” evokes a picture of someone with a Valentine-type heart in their mouth. By giving examples of idioms in a sentence, elicit from students what each actually means.

Students each pick an idiom to illustrate. They receive 2 copies of a heart-shaped sheet of white construction paper. On the first sheet, they draw a picture of what the idiom sounds like it means. On the inside sheet they write the idiom and a definition with an original sentence.

The two hearts are backed by a larger red heart. Students learn each other’s idioms through a game. Each students writes the definition of their idiom on an index card. The cards are placed face down on the table. Students each pick a card and try to match it with the correct idiom.

Students take their idioms to a mainstream class. They take turns holding up their pictures for classmates to guess what the idiom is. If the idiom is not guessed, they show the second page.

Work is hung in the hallway for everyone to enjoy.


For intermediate 2nd and 3rd grade students, I introduced the concept of figurative language by reading Pa Lia’s First Day by Michelle Edwards. The main character in the story experiences a series of emotions which lend themselves to introducing idioms. The students determined that Pa Lia had a big heart. They then brainstormed situations during which they had done something to show that they had a big heart. Using the heart in the downloadable PDF file, students wrote their deed on the front of a heart shaped sheet of paper and drew a picture on the second sheet.

Descriptors and Progress Indicators

During this unit students worked on the following skills:

-seeking support and feedback from others

-responding appropriately to classmates

-using the appropriate degree of formality with different audiences and settings

-selecting, connecting, and explaining information

-presenting an idiom in front of a group

-practicing new language

-deciding when use of slang is appropriate

-using acceptable tone, volume, stress, and intonation in various social settings

Activity Downloads

Note: To view the classroom activities, you must have Acrobat Reader intalled. Acrobat is a free application available from Adobe Systems.

Big Heart (140k .PDF)

Valentine’s Day heart (140k .PDF)

Valentine candy (28k .PDF)

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