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ESL Teaching Resources: Animal Idioms

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Here are two exercises for upper-intermediate and advanced levels to practice using animal expressions in English. Give a copy of the idioms to the class and ask them to read the meaning and choose an animal to complete the phrase. When they have finished, go through the answers with them.

The second part of the exercise involves the students producing the idioms. Give each class member an idiom to memorise. Read the situations in part two, and have the students call out the most appropriate animal idiom for the circumstance.

If you like this exercise why not have a look at the English food idioms.


Read the Meaning and Choose the Appropriate Animal

1. This place has really gone to the___________

  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Pigeons

Meaning – This place has deteriorated immensely.

2. You can take a _________ to water, but you can’t make it drink.

  • Horse
  • Donkey
  • Mule

You can help a person only up to a certain point and then they must do things for themselves.

3. He has got __________ in his pants.

  • Termites
  • Snakes
  • Ants

Meaning-He is very restless.

4. There are plenty more ________ in the sea.

  • Octopuses
  • Sharks
  • Fish

Meaning – If you have broken up with your partner, don’t worry, as there are lots of other people you could date.

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5. You’ve made a mountain out of a __________.

  • Kennel
  • Molehill
  • Ant farm

Meaning – You’ve overreacted to something or are exaggerating something.

6. The black ________ of the family.

  • Sheep
  • Cow
  • Dog

Meaning-The outcast, eccentric or undesirable member of the family who does not conform to the norm.

7. Get off your high____________.

  • Elephant
  • Giraffe
  • Horse

Meaning-You are acting conceited, judgemental and condescending. Stop treating people as if they are inferior to you and become more humble.


8. Look what the _______ dragged in!

  • Cat
  • Lion
  • Panther

Meaning- It can either mean 1) look who has arrived or 2) that you look dishevelled and messy.

9. He came home drunk yesterday and he’s in the __________ now.

  • Vulture’s nest
  • Snake’s hole
  • Doghouse

Meaning- He has annoyed his girlfriend/wife and is being punished for it.

10. They could argue with each other till the _______ come home.

  • Pigs
  • Goats
  • Cows

Meaning-They can do something for an extremely long time.

11. Someone let the_______ out of the bag.

  • Cat
  • Rabbit
  • Scorpion

Meaning- Someone revealed something that was supposed to be a secret.

12. He’s like a ________ in a china shop.

  • Bull
  • Heifer
  • Rhino

Meaning-He is very clumsy.

13. Hold your __________!

  • Dolphins
  • Camels
  • Horses

Meaning-Stop and wait for a minute.

14. What’s the matter? _______ got your tongue?

  • Ferret
  • Badger
  • Cat

Meaning- The person has suddenly become very quiet.

15. Let sleeping___________ lie.

  • Dogs
  • Dragons
  • Hippos

Meaning-Don’t disturb a situation as it may cause more complications. Leave things the way they are.


16. He had his ________between his legs.

  • Paws
  • Tail
  • Snout

Meaning-He was embarrassed and humiliated.

17. He wouldn’t hurt a ___________

  • Fly
  • Flea
  • Bee

Meaning-He is so gentle; he would never hurt anybody or anything.

18. She’s as blind as a ________.

  • Bug
  • Bat
  • Snail

Meaning- Her eyesight is extremely bad.

19. A _________ never changes its spots.

  • Giraffe
  • Leopard
  • Dalmatian

Meaning-You can’t change your nature.

20. Like a ________ out of water

  • Fish
  • Whale
  • Dolphin

Meaning-Someone is out of their comfort zone.


1-dogs, 2-horse, 3-ants, 4-fish, 5-molehill, 6-sheep, 7-horse, 8-cat, 9-doghouse, 10-cows, 11-cat, 12-bull, 13-horses, 14-cat, 15-dogs, 16-tail, 17-fly, 18-bat, 19-leopard, 20-fish.


Part 2 - Using the English Animal Idioms

1. She didn’t see you in the room? Wow, she really is ________ without her glasses.

2. I don’t really like my new school mates. They have a different sense of humour and different interests .To be honest I feel like a __________ when I am around them.

3. That neighbourhood has changed completely. It used to have nice families living there, but now there is a lot of crime. It has ____________.

4. Sit down and relax! It’s like you have ____________.

5. You’re really quiet today. What’s the matter? ____________?

6. He has been in and out of jail since he was 16 and keeps promising his mother he’ll change.

Well, in my opinion a ______________.

7. You’ve tried to help her get back on her feet, but there’s only so much you can do. She has to want to change. ____________.

8. We had a terrible argument that night. She said some awful things to me. We haven’t spoken about what was said since. I’d just prefer to_____________.

9. Fred looks like an axe murderer.

What?! Fred? No way, Fred is really gentle, he __________.

10. He was always boasting about how good he was at chess until he was defeated by a 10 year old. He left the competition with his ________.

11. Let’s buy this house, I love it!

___________. Let’s think about this first. We need to get the engineer around to see if that roof is safe.

12. She knows about the surprise party you know.

What? Who _________?

13. Well, well, well __________. Did you not get any sleep last night? Maybe you should go back to bed.

14. He came in to the sitting room, knocked over a vase, spilt coffee on the rug and accidentally stood on the dog’s paw. He’s like ________.

15. She forgot to hand in the assignment and now she’s acting like it’s the end of the world.

Well, she was always good at making _______.

16. Susan is the ________. While the rest of us studied hard at college, all she does is go out drinking and partying every night. The family is not too happy with her.

17. I’m really __________ with my boss. I was late twice this week and an important client left because of me.

18. I’m fed up of his attitude; he’s so haughty and condescending. He needs to _________.

19. Jennifer broke up with Kyle you know? I told him cheer up, there are _______.

20. They’ve been talking about politics all morning; I’m so bored listening to them.

Oh yeah, they could talk about that __________. It’s their favourite subject.


1-as blind as a bat, 2-a fish out of water, 3-gone to the dogs, 4-ants in your pants, 5-Cat got your tongue? 6-a leopard never changes his spots, 7-you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, 8-let sleeping dogs lie, 9-wouldn’t hurt a fly, 10-tail between his legs, 11-Hold your horses, 12- let the cat out of the bag, 13-Look what the cat dragged in, 14-a bull in a china shop, 15-a mountain out of a molehill, 16-black sheep of the family, 17-in the doghouse, 18-get off his high horse, 19-plenty more fish in the sea, 20-till the cows come home.

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