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Dropping Like Flies


Idiom for Kids – What Does ‘Dropping Like Flies Mean? A Free Printable Poster for Your Classroom Wall.

Teaching Idiom

Examples of Idiom with Sentences

What does ‘Dropping Like Flies’ mean?

Dropping Like Flies
Dropping Like Flies

The term ‘dropping like flies’ has several meanings:

  • many people falling ill at roughly the same time
  • many people dying at roughly the same time
  • large numbers of people dropping out
  • to faint or collapse in large numbers

Alternative idioms which mean the same thing:

  • dying like flies
  • dropping like flies
  • falling like flies.

What is an idiom?

An idiom is a group of words that mean something different from what the actual words say. This means what is said in an idiom is not exactly what is happening but often describes another feeling or action. Idioms are a bit like codes when we first meet them. We can solve the puzzle to figure out what they really mean!

Idiom of the Week:

I am a big fan of introducing a new idiom each week. Not with the express goal of learning a lot of new phrases, more to raise awareness of idiom in general. Print out a poster each week, discuss and play with it and then display it on the wall. Once you start looking, phrases will ‘catch your eye’ all the time 🙂 

Teaching Activities:

When discussing this idiom, act it out for students. Don’t be afraid to ham it up!

Literal Meaning – (what the words ACTUALLY mean)

  1. Have all your students stand, ‘Act this out with me… there are 20 flies flying around you, swipe them away from your face, one flies into your mouth, you spit it out, one has landed on your ear, you feel a shiver , it crawls into your ear, how do you react? They are crawling on your food. You have a drink and you see a fly “swimming” in the glass. How do you react? Your mum comes in with a can of bug spray, sprays the air and all 20 flies fall to the ground… dead in an instant’. Children sit.
  2. As another option, you could have students act like the ‘flies’. Swat around the room at the students, then on the count of 3 have them drop to the ground, as the flies would.

Figurative Meaning – (What the INTENDED meaning is)

  1. Show the poster. ‘When we first hear this phrase we know the actual word suggest flies simply falling from the sky. But this is not how we use it. We can work out the true meaning from the day the phrase is used’.
  2. Discuss this example, ‘The weather was so hot the marathon runners were “dropping like flies”’.Have students think about what it could mean, write down their idea and share it with a friend.
  3. Reveal the figurative meaning of this idiom to students. ‘If people are dropping like flies, there are a lot of them getting tired, quitting or sick in a very short space of time. This idiom is commonly used for when people are sick or are trying to do something that is too hard. 

Etymology – (Where the phrase came from)

It is thought this idiom began as a result of how short a fly’s life is. They only have about a month to live before they die… even less if someone swats it with a rolled up newspaper. People have referred used the term ‘like flies’ since the 1600s to mean ‘in great numbers’ but the first the first recorded use of the phrase ‘dropping like flies’ was used in a newspaper in 1902.

Idioms with Sentences

Display these dialogue models and have students build them into quick plays:

Example 1

Olivia: So many people in our class is getting sick with a stomach bug.
Tao: Yeah, they’re dropping like flies!
Olivia: I don’t think flies are the kind of bug I was talking about.
Tao: Dropping like flies means everyone seems to be getting sick at the same time. There aren’t many of us left who aren’t sick.

Example 2

Malia: I can’t believe you finished the race! I’m so tired and I only got halfway.
Lily: It wasn’t easy. I saw a lot of runners dropping like flies but I kept going.
Malia: I know, I was one of those flies! A lot of people were quitting because the race was long and exhausting.

Bad Acting / Bit of Fun

Examples created to illustrate points in teaching can often be a little… ‘forced’ to say the least. When faced with these sorts of examples, it can be a lot of fun to develop a sort of ‘in joke’ to highlight / over emphasize the author’s  intended learning.

Here are a few tips to try:

  • pretend to be nervous
  • pretend you are reading from a TelePrompTer you can’t quite see
  • don’t move your feet
  • overact a wink
  • put an emphasis on words in the ‘wrong’ places like some newsreaders
  • add a fake laughs
  • add fake laughs in unison
  • add fake laughs with over accentuated hand movements
  • stilted talking, ‘I’ve… come… to clean… your pool’
  • talk a lot s-l-o-w-e-r when it comes time to make a point – you might even like to introduce the word con-desc-end-ing

Students Experiment with the Idiom –

In pairs students create a very short play that ends with the line, ‘When pigs fly’. You can have them do a ‘Think, Pair, Share’, ‘Think, Pair, Square’, and when they are feeling confident ask for victims… do a double take… I mean… volunteers to perform their skit for the class.