Vol. 8. No. 2 R-3 September 2004
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Join the Club: Idioms for Academic and Social Success, Book 1 (International Edition)

Lisa Naylor (2002)
New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Contemporary
Pp. xiii +191
ISBN 0-07-242795-7

I have seen a lot of ESL/EFL learners in trouble when they take an idiomatic expression at face value. Idioms are especially confusing for nonnative speakers because each one has a special meaning. Those who have found themselves in a pickle because of idioms had better join up and read this book, Join the Club: Idioms for Academic and Social Success. The book not only tells you the real and special meanings of popular idiomatic expressions but also offers a means to practice them in a meaningful and interesting way.

Join the Club was written for low-intermediate to intermediate level nonnative speakers of English. The objectives of the book are two-fold. One is to introduce students to the most frequently occurring idiomatic expressions, which mean the colloquial speech actually heard outside the classroom. The other is to foster communicative competence by having students engaging in integrated skills. Students not only practice the expressions through listening, speaking, reading and writing activities, but they are also given opportunities to discuss and reflect on the sociolinguistic features generally associated with the expressions. For example, who uses the expressions (young, old, male, or female), where the expressions are used (at school, at work or among friends) and how the expressions are used (in happy, upset or neutral mood). These goals are supported by a variety of activities and exercises in the book.

Join the Club presents 135 expressions explicitly in nine chapters. In addition, there are related expressions explained through exercises; 242 expressions are presented, and every expression can be found in the index/glossary. Each chapter is designed to be completed in a 2-hour class. Interestingly, most expressions are very authentic so they occur in every day life: songs, movies, radio, shows, or magazines. For example, 'keep your fingers crossed', 'have a crush on', 'go nuts', 'easy going', or 'stressed out' can be heard several times a day. Authenticity of the expressions, selected by saliency and frequency, is definitely one of the merits of the book.

Each chapter consists of 5 parts. Part I is designed for idiom study by 3 groups. In each group, students study five new expressions and complete four exercises together, such as matching idioms, filling in the blank, discussing if the sentences make sense, and replacing the underlined phrases. The expressions are generally presented in context and in a humorous manner. For instance, this expression, "I'm broke again! It's time to go to Las Vegas and hit the casinos!" (p. 7) is used for students to discuss how to make sense of it by replacing inappropriate words.

Part II is designed for three rounds of information gap activities. After each group has studied 5 expressions in Part I, students are regrouped to work together. For example, student 1 from group 1 listens to and explains what he/she studied through the previous group activity to student 2 and 3 who will write down the answers as given. This type of info gap activity strongly promotes learners to interact and negotiate meaning in listening and speaking. [-1-]

Part III has four Halftime Activities. First, in a discussion activity, students share their opinion about register of idioms; how, when, where, and by whom the expressions may be used. For example, the expression 'what a bummer' may be said in a frustrated tone of voice. I agree with the author that this encourages students to catch sociolinguistic features, which pertain to certain expressions. Further, it gives students a chance to compare expressions in their own culture to those they are studying. This is followed by a reading/vocabulary activity. Students work in pairs/groups and analyze the expressions in a specific context. The third activity focuses on grammar. Grammatical information and /or further meaning carried in idioms are presented. The activity is arranged to draw students' attention to correct usage in context so they can enhance accuracy in speech and fluency as well. For example, similar expressions like 'nuts', 'a nut', 'nutty', 'be nuts', or 'nuts about' may be confusing for learners, so the activity zooms in from what they mean into how to use them correctly. A Grammar Guide is conveniently located in an appendix for in-depth explanation and quick review. The final Halftime Activity is Expression Log, which will be done outside of the classroom. The students keep their Log in a small notebook and submit it for a weekly journal entry. I personally like Expression Log. It encourages students to look for more expressions outside of the classroom on their own. This could be from movies, songs, the radio, or the Internet, but the point is that the students naturally practice and integrate skills by keeping a Log. I am sure that this work would increase memory retention. Further, writing a log will enhance other skills as well, such as reading, grammar or vocabulary (Kroll, 2001). In addition, teachers and students both may benefit from this activity in a long view. For example, teachers can make sure that students are on pace and give tailored feedback and get insight on further teaching by checking an Expression Log. For students, a Log activity gives them a chance to interact with teachers about more specific points, such as weaknesses in their own learning, particular grammar usage or nuance of expressions.

Part IV is a listening and speaking activity called Tune In and is designed to make students apply the expressions through either contextualized meaning expansion or listening for meaning. Teachers may use their own scripts or those in Appendix C for the activity.

Part V is the final chapter activity, Chat Room which is a conversational board game using dice and a minute timer. In the activity, students practice more integrated skills, and teachers can ascertain how well the students have learned the target idioms of each chapter. More activity and practice ideas can be consulted in Appendix D, Suggestion Box. After every three chapters, there is a review section for practicing the previously studied idioms. The activities are designed to review through games, like Tic-Tac-Toe or Password, Dialogue Match to find the sequence of the dialogue, or story telling using a minimum of 20 expressions that they have learned. In fact, the book is full of interesting games and activities. Young ESL learners would enjoy the activities to practice. I, however, wonder if these activities based on fun would work for older adult learners. In some cultures, especially in Asia, the adults prefer more formal, dignified activities such as listening to a lecture or reading. So they would dislike doing Tic-Tac-Toe or any other games in class. In addition, even though the book targets low intermediate level learners, some of them may master target expression earlier since they are repeated over time; they may need a more challenging task such as reading. However, the book has only sentence level reading. It would be better, I think, if the book had a small reading section about idiom history or origins. This would give students better understanding and easier memorization of idioms as well as in-depth study to advanced learners. Alternative activities are helpful for uneven proficiency level learners, such as in a large sized EFL classroom. [-2-]

The beginning and end of each chapter have cartoons related to idioms. This gives a sense of humor and conceptualized meanings to the idioms. For instance, at the end of Chapter 3 (p. 54), a cartoon explains an idiom 'be swamped' by depicting a woman who is obviously overwhelmed; the phone is ringing, and she is surrounded by piles of work and demanding people. I know that many idioms are impossible to represent graphically. However, a simple but effective graphic is better than a 100 sentence explanation. I also think it would be interesting and helpful if the book added an activity related to comic strips or cartoons from newspapers or magazines.

Finally, an answer key, transcripts for listening activity on Tune In, Suggestion Box, Grammar Guide, and index-glossary are provided as appendixes. In the glossary, expression, meaning, and grammar key are given along with chapter and page numbers for convenience. This glossary may be very useful for teachers and students when the book is used as a main text in an American culture or idiom class solely. But many schools, especially in an EFL setting, don't provide a particular class with regard to idioms. In such cases, teachers need to integrate idioms into a part of curriculum or activity. So the index ought to be sorted out not only by alphabet but also by occasion, situation, and feeling are necessary. For an EFL learner, it is hard to figure out what kind of mood—negative, irritated, excited, happy, or neutral—is inferred by an expression like "You bought it at $5. What a steal!" A more sophisticated glossary will be beneficial for self study EFL students as well.

The author explains that her teaching approach for the book is based on "first language acquisition theory to provide the learners with a rich variety of lexical items from which to choose to create and embed meaning" (p. xi). From this view, the author has selected salient and frequently used idioms and organized them in meaningful context and designed activities to integrate the skills. I agree with her emphasis on frequency of use, meaningful interaction, and integrated skills. As Ellis (2002) noted, learners' language may be a product of their history of usage in communicative interaction. SLA, however, is different from FLA in many ways ( Schachter 1990), and the author's approach to the idioms may not work in an EFL setting where it is impossible to provide the students a rich variety of authentic resources. If frequency plays a large part in learning as in FLA, ESL learners will have better input and communicative interaction outside of the classrooms, plus stronger motivation than EFL learners. On the other hand, it will be difficult for EFL students to practice idioms in a meaningful way. I think Join the Club is better for ESL learners. For the use of EFL learners, teachers will have to consider where and how to combine authentic input source in using the book. If the author develops some activities using World Wide Web work which can benefit both learners together rather than focus on many games and activities, the book will be welcomed in both settings. For example, an online journal entry or an email project may provide students an opportunity to share their experience and may fill a gap between ESL and EFL classrooms. Another point that the book should keep in mind is pronunciation or prosodic features in speech production. EFL learners may find idioms through online resources or movies, but they can't hear how the expressions are really produced as often as ESL learners do. In particular, some idioms or slang expressions need a specific intonation or tone to carry meaning correctly. These problems can't be solved by simple reading. The author suggests some solutions like "the students can repeat after the instructor" (p. xi) for pronunciation, but what happens if the teacher is also nonnative. The author didn't explain how the use of the book will vary depending on setting.

Overall, Join the Club is an excellent ESL textbook for idiomatic expressions. Despite a few weaknesses, including the ignorance on the role of segmental and suprasegmentals which are important in speech production, and some limitations on EFL implementation, the book is authentic and practical. I especially like a grammar-focused interaction activity and an idiom expression journal that integrates other skills. When accuracy and fluency, I believe, are well balanced through communicative interaction, language learning is effective. When teachers and students have these points in mind, Join the Club will be a quality tool in learning and teaching authentic idioms with a slice of culture.


Ellis, N. C. (2002). Reflections on frequency effects in language processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 24, 297-339.

Kroll, B. (2001). Considerations for teaching an ESL/EFL writing course: In Celce Murcia M. (Ed.), Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (3rd Ed).(pp. 219-232). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Schachter, J. (1990). On the issue of completeness in second language acquisition. Second Language Research, 6, 93-124.

Seong Mi Choi
Michigan State University

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