Top Tips for IELTS

Curling up with a good book with Karen Richardson

This exercise on idioms is kindly provided by Karen Richardson. She only agreed to do it on condition that she could use some of her favourite idioms. Naturally, I agreed. The idea is just that: you get to listen to some teachers talking their way through some of their favourite idioms. As an added bonus, Karen also cleverly links together a series of connected idioms – most of most which relate to fabric! To get you started, can you think of any idioms relating to?

  • blanket
  • sheets
  • cloak
  • curtains
  • mask
  • undercover

Some questions before you listen

You will hear Karen talk about books she likes to read.

  • Try to identify the idioms and phrasal verbs in each of these questions first
  • Can you guess what each idiom might mean?
  1. What is it like outside in the depths of winter?
  2. What is covered with a blanket of snow?
  3. Where does Karen curl up with her book?
  4. Is Karen interested in what goes on between the sheets?
  5. How does she feel about cloak and dagger stuff?
  6. Where do people creep around in the books she reads?
  7. When was Sir Caruthers done in?
  8. How do the ends of the books turn out?
  9. Does the undercover detective talk to the people separately?
  10. Who does the detective unmask at the end of the book?
  11. Is it good news for culprit, when the detective says “It’s curtains for you”?
  12. Like owner, like pet. Where do Karen’s cats curl up?

Listen and answer the questions

[audio:|titles=Curling up with a good book – Karen Richardson]

Read the transcript

Sometimes it is good to read and listen at the same time

Read the transcript

In the deep depths of winter, when the garden is covered by a blanket of snow, and everything is still and peaceful outside, there’s nothing I like more than curling up on the sofa with something to read. I don’t bother with women’s magazines though. I’m not all that interested in reading about this film star and that pop star and what goes on between the sheets. No, give me a good murder mystery any day. I love all that cloak and dagger stuff, books in which people creep around country manor houses in the middle of the night, and in which the maid screams and drops the breakfast tray as she notices that someone has done in kind old Sir Caruthers in the middle of the night. Books in which it always turns out fine in the end when the undercover detective gathers everyone together and unmasks the culprit with the words, “It’s curtains for you young man. Take him away constable”. Yes, a good book, a comfy sofa, soft snow glistening outside, the cats curled up at my feet; what could be nicer?

Match the definitions

Now that you have listened to the idioms in context, can you match them to their definitions?

1) the depths of winter

2) a blanket of snow

3) to curl up

4) to go on

5) between the sheets

6) cloak and dagger

7) creep around

8. to do in

9) to turn out

10) an undercover detective

11) to unmask

12) to be curtains for

a) to move around quietly

b) secret or mysterious (especially in crime and spy novels)

c) in bed

d) to reveal

e) to murder

f) the coldest and darkest months of the year

g) to lie down comfortably

h) a policeman either not in uniform or working secretly

i) to be the end for (an announcement of bad news)

j) to happen

k) a quite deep layer of snow

l) to finish

Read the answers

See the definitions

1) the depths of winter = f) the coldest and darkest months of the year

2) a blanket of snow = k) a quite deep layer of snow

3) to curl up = g) to lie down comfortably

4) to go on = j) to happen

5) between the sheets = c) in bed

6) cloak and dagger = b) secret or mysterious (especially in crime and spy novels)

7) creep around = a) to move around quietly

8. to do in = e) to murder

9) to turn out = l) to finish

10) an undercover detective = h) a policeman either not in uniform or working secretly

11) to unmask = d) to reveal

12) to be curtains for = i) to be the end for (an announcement of bad news)

More exercises

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Further practice

If you want to learn some of these idioms, the best way is to try and use them yourself and make them personal to you by using them in a way that means something to you. Here’s a simple suggestion:

  1. choose the idioms you like and think are useful to you (idioms are personal – you may not need all of these)
  2. make a few sentences using the idioms – make the sentences true for you – that way you are much more likely to remember them
  3. try telling a story (it can be brief) using some of idioms – say it aloud
  4. think about ways of recording the idioms (writing words down is a way of using and learning them)

You might also try asking yourself some of these questions and try and use some of the idioms in your answers:

  1. What is the weather like in your country? (depths of winter) (blanket of snow)
  2. Where and when do you like to read? (curl up)
  3. If you are busy, why is that so? (go on)
  4. What sort of books do you enjoy most and why? (cloak and dagger) (unmask) (undercover detective)
  5. Can you remember a time you were unnecessarily worried about something? (turn out)

A little about Karen

Aside from being a super teacher, Karen is also a consummate professional in writing materials for language learners (any typos here are definitely mine). Her extensive list of publications include books on English for Business, Law enforcement and for young learners – all available at a good bookshop near you now!

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9 Responses to Curling up with a good book with Karen Richardson

  1. Mohamed August 25, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    Thanks again for your time kindly dedicated to us. Im gonna to be a bit off from today ‘s post.

    From my experience during these years I really felt that for getting good score in IELTS ,of course, knowing and being familiar with style of IELTS is really helpful, but nothing better you learn English through listening like a native baby learns. Although dealing with grammar makes you really strong in writing, if you did it at the first, prior listening , you really would ruin your the natural process of learning. You probably lost many idioms , phrases that ordinary people use them in a routine life, such simple and nice phrases that
    IELTS rules and process do not or even you find them useful and taking time to learing to good mark. It’s a great pity you’ve already tried a lot to higher your score, but as you got the wrong side , it does seem you did not do so much to communicate with a normal people. You step in England or Australia and start talking people think a robot is talking. I hope IELTS goes to the way that focus more on speaking focus on ways that brings you up like a native speakers as much as possible, not only focus and score your ability through Reading that its questions are full of tricks, assessing your IQ and really set up traps hope you are tricked, losing points and again should be prepared to the next time. Or in writing you are aimed to use a variety of grammar structur , showing you already know many verb tenses. Hope , one day comes and Cambridge finds methods to assess candidates that how well are they to speak as much a native speaker speaks as with such stress and pronunciation that attract no attention . Not simply aims to set a strict rules to get 4*7 band score to pass the exam , even if you got 9 in three modules, while got 6.5 in the last one , you are forced to take another exam. Please have a look on those candidates coming to you to learn some tips to pass exam , how many of them know these idioms or even can use them in a daily speaking? No offense , but we do not like to face with a native one while we cannot type with him or her. In fact, IELTS made us like that. Believe me dealing too much with IELTS discourages you to learn in a natural method. I do believe that a natural method is listening in under real conditions . Last but not least, I really want to advise those new candidates rushing into Cambridge books hoping to get a good mark with reading and memorizing say that is a really really wrong side. Please spend at least a year to learn English then prepare to exam. Sorry that I appeared too talkative . Again, thank you that you generously share your tips to us.


  2. seatrah September 28, 2012 at 5:51 am #

    i don’t know why i am not good at idiom even my language.

  3. Parisa September 28, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    nice dear…

  4. mar October 9, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    I’m a young student of English but I don’t have a lot of vocabulary, thank you for this stuff. Your website is fantastic, it is helping me a lot.

  5. Mh October 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Hi Dominc,

    I read it several times that was really amazing .. what a pity she didn’t keep up posting

    • Dominic Cole October 29, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      I’m getting back to work now and this feature will be continued in the next couple of weeks.

  6. Otman October 22, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    It’s wonderful and very helpful

  7. Manjusha December 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    I got almost all of them correct, but being a non-native English speaker, I am not very comfortable using idioms while speaking. I have got this feeling that I might sound unnatural if I try to consciously fill my speech with idioms. Any thoughts?

    • Dominic Cole February 22, 2013 at 12:25 am #

      Excellent question. Idioms are double-edged swords ;-). If you get them right, terrific; but they are hard to judge correctly by their very nature and there is every chance that you get them wrong. It is partly a question of confidence. If the idiom comes to you naturally – use it. If though you are unsure – go another – don’t feel obliged to be idiomatic for the sake of it. This is where practice comes in – the more you practise, the more likely you are to use the idiom naturally.

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