Coming Back with a Bang: Learning Phrasal Verbs

A warm hello to you after a long summer vacation! I’ve missed sharing the ideas that brew in my mind and surface as as suggestions or activities. I had a light teaching schedule in July and August. I got ready to come back in September with a bang, and so here I am in the midst of a new Phrasal Verb Challenge on YouTube. This time around I’m offering a 10-video series that covers 20 phrasal verbs. I’m already up to Lesson 5 of 10, so there’s enough material posted to give you a sense of how I’m presenting the phrasal verbs. Below are some suggestions for how you might build on this series for your upper level students.

I find this free online tool very useful for pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. For example, in Lesson 2 I teach “chip in” with the meaning of contributing something. By searching for “chip in” on YouGlish, students will find a number of enlightening results …as long as you arm them with questions to guide their discoveries. You can ask:

– Is “chip in” used with or without an object?
A: It can be both transitive and intransitive. (Search results yield “chip in a couple bucks” and “comment and chip in.”)
– Is every example with “chip in” an example of the phrasal verb?
A: No. Sometimes people talk about an physical chip in a credit card or other device.
– If it’s not used as a phrasal verb, does the pronunciation change?
A: Yes. There’s more stress on the verb. The preposition is unstressed.
– In what situations are people chipping in? What or how are they chipping in?
A: The situations vary from contributing a comment to a conversation to contributing money to a group fund.

2) Polls
Whether on paper or online (e.g., Facebook, SurveyMonkey), a poll prompts interaction and allows for discussion of the results. A teacher-made poll can be taken outside of class or even directly in class if you want to show real-time results through an app like Poll Everwhere. Having students create the poll questions, however, allows for writing practice and you can catch errors in usage. Here are possible questions for a teacher-made poll that would lead to class discussion:
– Have you run up against any technical difficulties in the past 48 hours?
– Is a flat rate tax the fairest way for every citizen to chip in?
– Do you have to put up with loud neighbors or loud outside noise?
– Do you have to put up with loud noise inside your home?
– Is politics a topic you prefer to back away from?
– Is it easier to pick out clothes online or in a store?
Once the results are in, students can discuss the topics in small groups.

3) Situations and Word Associations
A fast-paced way to reinforce the meanings is to focus on the kinds of situations one would use a phrasal verb in. The teacher can lead a quick comprehension check by stating a list of associations and asking students to identify the phrasal verb:
– Name the phrasal verb: financial problems, computer problems, technical difficulties. (Answer: run up against)
– Name the phrasal verb: noisy neighbors, annoying little brother, traffic on your way to school or work.
(Answer: put up with)
Have the key phrasal verbs listed and in sight for students to choose from.

Alternatively, students can silently choose a phrasal verb from a list and then state their own associations. Their partners have to guess the phrasal verb.

4) Dominoes
As a variation on my original Phrasal Verb Dominoes game, you can have students create long strips of paper. Two phrasal verbs from a set of 10-20 phrasal verbs need to be written on either end. Each student should have 5-10 strips. Taking turns, each student will place a strip of paper down so that one verb touches another either vertically or horizontally as in regular dominoes. For each connection, a statement must be made using both phrasal verbs. Students play until all strips are used.

Student A – (chip in, run up against)
“I wanted to buy a motorbike to get to work, but I ran up against money problems. Thankfully, my parents chipped in and I could buy the bike.”
Student B – (run up against, put up with)
“It’s common to run up against problems, but sometimes we just have to put up with things. We can’t fix everything.”
Student A – (put up with, back away)
“I usually back away from arguments, but I’m tired of putting up with my noisy neighbors.”

Photo credit: Color, Background, Structure, Lines by geralt. Retrieved from the Public Domain at

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