Writer Me vs. Teacher Me – a conundrum over cliches

ESL Teacher Conundrum - teaching cliches

Before I started teaching ESL, I was a college writer. I carried adorable little observation journals everywhere, I lived for jotting down details, and of course, I avoided cliches like the plague (I know, I know, I can never resist that one).

Now, as an ESL teacher, it’s my responsibility to teach everything about the English language… Including the stuff you aren’t supposed to use… Including those dreaded cliches. And I admit, I like teaching cliches. They’re colorful and descriptive and funny, especially when they don’t quite translate.

Here’s my mini-conundrum: For students to fully understand the language, they need to be able to understand cliches. At the same time, I have to convince them that that it’s usually better to avoid them, at lease in writing.

To see what I mean, here’s the outline a typical food vocabulary lesson vs. a typical cliche lesson.

A food vocabulary lesson, for example, goes something like this:

Step 1: Teach new food vocabulary.
Step 2: Practice new vocabulary by responding to conversation questions.
Step 3: Students write about their favorite restaurants.
Step 4: In groups, students create their own ideas for new restaurants.
Step 5: Students role play restaurant situation conversations.

A typical lesson on cliches is more like this: 

Step 1: Teach new cliches.
Step 2: Practice new cliches by responding to conversation questions.
Step 3: Teach students to never ever ever use cliches again.

The struggle! What’s a teacher to do?


2 thoughts on “Writer Me vs. Teacher Me – a conundrum over cliches

  1. Good point! There is a disconnect between the first-language writing class and the ESL class in that regard. I think that cliches became cliches for a reason so it’s a good jumping off place for students but then the teacher can encourage them to make their own expressions. For example, I teach them “as strong as an ox” but also try to have them find their own comparisons, which as usually much better.


    1. Thanks! It’s true that cliches are useful, and they’re definitely necessary in order to really understand the language. I really like the idea of having students come up with their own comparisons. I’ll have to try that. Thanks for commenting!


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