Greenling / During Reading / /

Everything’s Gone to Seed

Learning plant idioms and finding examples in the book

Lesson length: 1 session+

Lesson from Greenling teaching sequence

Required reading: Whole book

Text potential

  • Theme: Action and inaction
  • Theme: Caring for the environment
  • Theme: Change and Transformation
  • Theme: Community
  • Theme: Consequences of actions
  • Theme: Humans are a part of nature not apart from nature
  • Language features: Idiom
  • Theme: Nature and civilisation
  • Theme: Nature and technology
  • Theme: Outsiders
  • Theme: Power of nature
  • Theme: Standing against injustice
  • Theme: Sustainability
  • Theme: Wild and civilised


  • Vocabulary: Blended Approach
  • Discussion and Dialogue


Idioms are figures of speech that are commonly used. Knowing what idioms mean is important for several reasons. When reading, recognising an idiom so it is processed as a phrase rather than individual words aids reading fluency. In everyday speech, we can understand what someone is trying to communicate rather than taking their words literally, which would result in miscomprehension.

Native speakers usually pick up idioms through everyday communication, but it takes longer for additional language learners who may not have the cultural context to interpret them. They may also have different idioms meaning the same thing in their first language, which can provide an interesting point of comparison and the possibility for developing linguistic and cultural awareness.

When teaching idioms, it is best to group them thematically.

In this lesson, we start with an idiom in the text and then look at the literal and metaphoric meaning. The idioms are then applied to events in the text.


  • Copies of Greenling, at least one between two.
  • Print and cut out the Greenling idioms and definitions (printed on different coloured paper or in different colour ink to aid the matching exercise).
  • The slideshow with Plants and Growing idioms.


First, turn to pages 13 and 14.

Read the text aloud and draw attention to the phrase ‘taken to seed’. If you haven’t already talked about this expression, ask:

  • What do you think it means?
  • Is it positive or negative language?

Talk through slides 2 – 7 in the slideshow Plants and Growing Idioms.

Slide 8 shows a list of common plant and growing idioms.

In pairs, ask the children to read through the list.

  • Are there any idioms you have heard before?
  • Which are new to you?

Gather the class. Talk briefly about any that they have heard and whether they know the meaning.

Take time to ensure the class understand the literal meaning of each idiom using slides 9 –

  • You reap what you sow – reap is another word for harvest, so if you sow what seeds, you will reap a wheat crop.
  • Nip it in the bud –  nip is to pinch and, in this case, to pinch or take off the bud of a plant before it has a chance to flower.
  • Can’t see the wood for the trees – there are so many trees that is all you can see, you don’t notice the wood that the trees are made from
  • There is no rose without a thorn – roses may be beautiful and smell lovely, but they have an unpleasant thorn.
  • Let the grass grow under your feet – you would have to stand still for a very long time for the grass actually to grow under your feet.
  • Make hay while the sun shines –   you have to make hay while the weather is dry because if you leave it until it rains, the hay will rot.
  • Smell the roses –  take time to stop and smell the roses rather than be in a hurry and walk straight by them.
  • Sowing seeds of suspicion – sowing is the same as planting. If you plant tomato seeds, you will grow tomatoes – so if you were to plant suspicion seeds, you would grow suspicion (difficult not to use metaphor to explain this one)
  • Wither on the vine – the grapes haven’t been left to die on the vine rather than being picked to eat or make wine. They haven’t been looked after properly.

Check that the children understand the literal understanding of the idioms.

Now, give out the idioms to half the class and meanings to the other half. Explain that they have to match the idiom with its meaning. However, the meanings are metaphoric rather than literal. The children move around the classroom to match with a partner.

When they think they have found a partner, they should sit down and devise a scenario where they could use the idiom.

Gather the class,

Partners reveal their match. Either confirm or clear up any misconceptions.

Now, ask the children to return to the book. In pairs, they will look through the book to find part of the story that fits their idiom.

Give the example wither on the vine –  something is destroyed or left to go bad rather than being looked after. It could apply to the picture with the man and the dog standing in the water by the culvert because the land hasn’t been looked after properly.


Final reflection

Gather the class

Share the examples.

If you have children in your class who speak other languages, take the opportunity to discuss whether they have a similar or different idiom in their language for the ones that you have looked at today.

If you have time, you can teach a second lesson in which the children develop their scenarios into short improvisations. The improvisations should end with one of the children speaking the idiom.


Key vocabulary

idiom, literal, figurative, metaphor

Subject-specific and technical vocabulary 
Academic process words 
Advanced vocabulary 
Morphological investigation 
Etymological investigation 
  • You reap what you sow.
  • Nip it in the bud
  • Can’t see the wood for the trees
  • There is no rose without a thorn
  • Let the grass grow under your feet
  • Make hay while the sun shines
  • Smell the roses
  • Sowing seeds of suspicion
  • Wither on the vine


Greeling Idioms

Greenling Idioms

A slideshow for teaching idioms.

Greenling Idioms

Idioms to cut out for the matching activity. Use fewer and focus on the most commonly used if you think your children will find the long list overwhelming.



Nikki Gamble

Nikki Gamble
Director, Just Imagine
Nikki has worked extensively in schools across the UK and internationally. She is the author of Exploring Children’s Literature (4th edit) (2019) and co-author of Guiding Readers (2016) which was awarded the UKLA Academic Book of the Year Award 2017. Nikki is KS2 reading advisor and series consultant for Oxford University Press and content creator for the Oxford School Improvement and Oxford Owl websites. Nikki is Associate Consultant at the University of London, Institute of Education and Honorary Fellow at the University of Winchester

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