Proverbs in Disguise: An Excerpt from The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, 6th Edition

EDWARD B. FRYE PH.D. (1925–2010), was Professor Emeritus of Education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Internationally known for his Readability Graph, Fry was the author of more than 30 books.

JACQUELINE E. KRESS is a tenured Professor of Education at Georgian Court University’s School of Education in Lakewood Township, New Jersey. She is the author of The ESL Teacher’s Book of Lists from Jossey-Bass.

This excerpt from The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, 6th Edition provides a comprehensive (and fun!) list of proverbs for teachers to use to broaden their students’ vocabulary and enhance their understanding of figurative language. Whether in the classroom, on the schoolyard, or around the dinner table, decoding these proverbs is a perfect way for kids to learn new words and practice their language skills. Because as we all know, practice makes perfect. 

Students and teachers have a good time translating these popular proverbs from verbose to customary versions. This is a good exercise for getting students interested in more sophisticated language. Have students create new ones using a thesaurus and challenge their classmates to a contest figuring them out. Can you translate all of these? If you’re stuck, the answers follow the list.

1. Accelerated execution often produces faulty results.

2. It is futile to attempt to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative maneuvers.

3. Male cadavers are incapable of yielding any testimony.

4. Neophyte’s serendipity.

5. Eschew the implementation of correction and vitiate the scion.

6. The stylus is more potent than the rapier.

7. Sorting on the part of mendicants must be interdicted.

8. Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate.

9. Exclusive dedication to necessary chores without interludes of hedonistic diversion renders John a hebetudinous fellow.

10. A feathered biped in a gilded cage is equivalent to double that number at large.

11. A plethora of individuals with expertise in culinary techniques vitiate the potable concoction produced by steeping certain comestibles.

12. An exceptional atmospheric disturbance is often preceded by an interval of tranquility.

13. Equine quadrupeds may indubitably be induced to approach accumulations of potable precipitation, but may not be induced to imbibe thereof.

14. It has been deemed unwise to calculate the quantity of emergent poultry prior to the full completion of their incubationary period.

15. The temperature of the aqueous content of an unremittingly ogled saucepan does not attain 212 degrees Fahrenheit.


1. Haste makes waste.

2. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

3. Dead men tell no tales.

4. Beginner’s luck

5. Spare the rod and spoil the child.

6. The pen is mightier than the sword.

7. Beggars can’t be choosers.

8. Birds of a feather flock together.

9. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

10. A bird in a cage is worth two in the bush.

11. Too many cooks spoil the soup.

12. There’s usually calm before the storm.

13. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

14. It is foolish to count your chickens before they’re hatched.

15. A watched pot never boils.


ABOUT THE BOOK: The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists is the definitive instructional resource for anyone who teaches reading or works in a K-12 English language arts-related field. Newly revised and ready to use, this top seller provides up-to-date reading, writing, and language content with lists for developing targeted instruction, plus section briefs linking content to research-based teaching practices. The new sixth edition includes a guide that maps the lists to specific Common Core standards for easy lesson planning, and features fifty brand-new lists on: academic and domain-specific vocabulary, foundation skills, rhyming words, second language development, context clues, and more. Brimming with practical examples, key words, teaching ideas, and activities that can be used as-is or adapted to students’ needs, these lists are ready to differentiate instruction for an individual student, small-group, or planning multilevel instruction for your whole class. With over 240 up-to-date lists, the book is a treasure trove for literacy instructors everywhere.

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One Response to Proverbs in Disguise: An Excerpt from The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, 6th Edition

  1. Keith Schoch says:

    Love these proverbs in disguise! These would be great to run as a slide show when folks are filing in for staff meetings, kind of like those movie trivia slides you see in some theaters before the trailers. The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists looks like a fantastic resource. I’ve used similar books in the past, and they provide endless inspiration for creative lesson plans in ELA.

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