Have you ever thought about what it means to ‘put your thinking cap on’?
How is it possible to ‘pass with flying colours’?
This blog will help you decipher some of the confusing idioms surrounding school and education. With regular practice, you might just be able to use them in everyday speech yourself, and not ‘draw a blank’ when you hear someone else use them!
Just remember, although these idioms derive from terminology surrounding school and education, they can be used in everyday situations.
English Idioms Related to School and Education
1. PUT / GET YOUR THINKING CAP ON
To engage your mind and think in a serious manner.
- Right, we need to figure out how we’re going to solve this problem before mum and dad get back, so let’s put our thinking caps on!
2. DRAW A BLANK
To get no response from someone when they are asked a question.
- I asked him about his plans for Christmas, but I just drew a blank. He didn’t seem to understand what I was asking him!
3. BACK TO BASICS
An approach that uses traditional ideas and methods which have been successful in the past.
- They seem to prefer having everything back to basics in their office. They have minimal use of advanced technology, but apparently find everything simpler and easier to manage.
4. AS EASY AS ABC
Something that is very simple or easy.
- That jigsaw puzzle is as easy as ABC, I don’t understand why you’ve been struggling with it for so long.
Used to describe someone who copies another person’s work.
- I don’t like talking to her about my wedding plans because she’s such a copycat! I know she’ll steal my ideas and use them for her own wedding.
6. COVER A LOT OF GROUND
When a lot of work needs to be completed. If there is a lot of research to be done, or material to get through.
- Our team have done so well over the past two weeks, we’ve managed to cover so much ground that I feel this programme may be ready by the end of this month!
- We have to complete our research within the next month. We still have a lot of ground to cover, and I fear we may not get everything done in time.
7. COUNT NOSES
To count the number of people around you (generally used on a school trip, to check for missing students).
- My grandmother was constantly counting noses at the birthday party. I think she felt responsible for all the children there!
8. EAGER BEAVER
Someone who works hard and is very enthusiastic.
- Mary is such an eager beaver, she always the first one to do whatever the boss asks. I think she’s hoping for a promotion!
9. DROP OUT OF SCHOOL (phrasal verb) / DROPOUT (noun)
To stop attending school completely (leave without graduating).
- She dropped out of school at the age of 14 to help her sick grandmother at home, but now she runs her own successful nursing home for the elderly!
- He’s a dropout, I can’t see him being anything successful with his current reputation.
10. SHOW OF HANDS
Raising hands to vote about something.
- With a show of hands, who would prefer to have longer working days but a shorter working week?
11. LEARN (SOMETHING) BY HEART / OFF BY HEART
To memorise something so well, that it can be written or recited without thinking.
- I can’t believe you learnt the whole Macbeth play by heart! Well done!
- She learnt all the compositions by Beethoven off by heart!
This is used to describe someone who reads a lot, all the time.
- You won’t be able to convince her to come out with us, she’s a real bookworm and will probably stay in to read!
13. FROM THE OLD SCHOOL / OF THE OLD SCHOOL
Holding attitudes or ideas that were popular and important in the past, but which are no longer considered relevant or in-line with modern trends.
- She was a teacher of the old school and believed in strict discipline.
- My grandmother is from the old school, she made her children make their own lunches and walk to school.
14. THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
Learning through difficult experiences in life, as opposed to a formal, classroom education.
- I wasn’t able to go to college, but I learnt a lot in the school of hard knocks, it taught me a lot about life.
15. A FOR EFFORT
Giving someone recognition for trying hard to do something even though they may not be successful.
- Jenny definitely deserves an A for effort, she put so much work into her entry for the competition.
16. SCHOOL SOMEONE IN SOMETHING
To train, discipline or coach someone in something.
- She schooled her brother in patience.
17. CUT CLASS / PLAY HOOKY / SKIP CLASS
When someone plays truant and does not go to their lessons.
- David has been cutting class again; I haven’t seen him in any of our French lessons for the past week!
- They played hooky at college so they could be first in line for the concert tickets.
- The teacher told his parents that he’d been skipping classes! He’s not allowed to go out with us now.
18. SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
A particular philosophy, or a way of thinking about something.
- One school of thought holds that cats cause allergic reactions.
19. TELL TALES OUT OF SCHOOL / TELL TALES
To gossip or spread rumours.
- I wish Gina wouldn’t tell tales out of school so much, people find it hard to believe anything she says now, even if she is telling the truth!
20. YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS
This means it is difficult to make someone change the way they do something when they have been doing it the same way for a very long time.
- Jeremy tries so hard to show me how the computer works, but he doesn’t understand that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
21. THE OLD SCHOOL TIE / OLDBOY NETWORK
The way in which men who have been to the same expensive private school, help each other to find good jobs.
- The old school tie still has enormous power in most City companies.
- They don’t make any effort to find a job for themselves, the oldboy network does it all for them.
To try to develop an idea or think of new ideas.
- Let’s all separate into groups and try to brainstorm as many suggestions as possible for the next school play.
23. AN OLD HEAD ON YOUNG SHOULDERS
A child or young person who thinks and talks like an older person who has more life experience.
- Emily doesn’t fit in with the children at her school, she’s definitely an old head on young shoulders. She talks to them like a parent or teacher would!
24. CALL THE ROLL / TAKE THE ROLL
To call the names of a group of people (or students) and expect them to respond to show they are present.
- Jamie called the roll on the coach before we left to make sure that everyone had arrived.
25. CRACK A BOOK
To open a book to study (usually used in a negative sense).
- I kept telling my mum I didn’t need to study too hard for this exam because it’s easy, she wouldn’t listen to me though. She insisted I crack a book every evening!
26. CRANK OUT A PAPER
To write a paper or essay in a mechanical way.
- I had to crank out a new paper every week to pass this course. It was really hard work!
27. FILL IN THE BLANKS
To supply missing words or information (this can be used in conversation or writing).
- I wasn’t here when the argument happened, so John filled in the blanks for me.
28. LEARN BY ROTE
To learn something by memorising it without giving any thought to what is being learnt.
- They had to learn the lyrics to two new songs by rote just before the show.
29. LEARN THE ROPES
To learn how to do a job properly, or how things work.
- It took me a while to learn the ropes in this law firm, some of their procedures are so complicated.
30. LEARN ONE’S LESSON
To suffer a bad experience and know not to do it again.
- I thought I was being funny by mocking Peter in front of everyone, but the way he reacted was so horrible. I’ve definitely learnt my lesson to not make a joke at someone else’s expense!
31. TEACH SOMEONE A LESSON
To do something to someone in order to punish them for something they’ve done.
- The boys next door wouldn’t stop playing pranks on the poor elderly couple across the road, so I played a prank on them to teach them a lesson!
32. PASS WITH FLYING COLOURS
To pass (a test) easily with a high score.
- I have some exciting news: I passed my driving test with flying colours!
33. SCHOOLBOY ERROR
A very basic or foolish mistake.
- He made a schoolboy error when he passed some of the responsibilities to Jonah, who took all the credit for everything they’d done.
34. A QUICK LEARNER
Someone who is able to learn a new skill or task very quickly.
- Kelly is a very quick learner; she has only been here for a week so far and has already taken on most of the previous secretary’s roles!
35. UNIVERSITY OF LIFE
The daily life and work where you learn more than you would by going to university.
- My grandfather began to work on the family farm when he was fourteen and learnt everything from the university of life.
36. SINGLE FILE
A line of people with one person standing behind another.
- We didn’t have any issues with crowd control at all. Everyone was eager to get an autograph from the band, but they waited patiently in single-file.
37. MEET THE REQUIREMENTS FOR/OF SOMETHING
To fulfil the requirements for/of something.
- Unfortunately, I didn’t meet all their requirements for that job, so I didn’t get it.
38. MAKE THE GRADE
To be satisfactory and of an expected level.
- I didn’t make the grade for the final assignment, so I have to do it all over again!
39. HIT THE BOOKS
To begin to study hard.
- I hit the books as soon as I knew the date of the exam.
40. HAVE ONE’S NOSE IN A BOOK
To be reading a book.
- He always has his nose in a book, I wish he’d be a bit more sociable sometimes!
41. GOOF OFF / GOOF AROUND
To waste time, procrastinate.
- He spent all of last week goofing around, and now he’s panicking the day before the test!
42. TEACHER’S PET
A teacher’s favourite student.
- She always gets really good marks, I bet it’s because she’s teacher’s pet.