Phrasal verbs — is there any other topic that’s more in demand? Students understand the frequency with which phrasal verbs are used, and they constantly want to learn more. They feel pressed to do so because they encounter phrasal verbs in high volume.
There are many resources out there: videos, textbooks, podcasts, and more. However, I’ve believed for a long time that it’s best to approach phrasal verbs as we do any vocabulary.
– We need to limit how much is presented and studied at one time.
– We need to create opportunities for multiple encounters.
– We need to identify items worth learning. Low frequency phrasal verbs should not be given high priority.
– We need to guide learners to review.
In 2021, I’ve decided to create a new YouTube playlist on phrasal verbs. This will be a series of short lessons based on an amazing resource I learned about at a recent TESOL convention. Dilin Liu and Daniel Myers have toiled to compile a list of the most common phrasal verbs. (See listed sources below.) Not only have they identified the phrasal verbs most frequently used, but they have also determined the key meanings for spoken English and academic writing. Such a list empowers us teachers and materials writers to create lessons that use students’ time efficiently. Knowing which phrasal verbs are essential for communication relieves us of guesswork.
My videos will aid presentation, but extended practice should take place in the classroom. I’ve shared ideas for meaningful practice in the past, but for such a long list, it’s best to think of activities that work for almost any set of phrasal verbs. I’ll be presenting a set of three phrasal verbs in each video lesson. Regular review and practice will make sure old phrasal verbs aren’t forgotten and new ones are mastered. Below is a list of old and new activities.
1. Guess the phrasal verb.
Give the definition or an example situation. Students can call out the phrasal verb, or have them play in two teams and compete for points.
Example: This is often how you learn words or expressions. You hear them used, and they become familiar. No one teaches you directly. Answer: pick up – you pick up new words
2. Improv dialog.
Choose one or two phrasal verbs. Challenge two students to have a conversation on the spot and integrate the key phrasal verbs in a natural and appropriate way. You can encourage multiple uses. You can also get the ball rolling by giving them a topic.
Example: (go on, find out/ topic – a friend is moving)
Student A: Hey there.
Student B: Hey. What’s going on?
Student A: Not much. But I found out that Anna is moving.
Student B: Really? How did you find that out?
Student A: She said she got a new job. Then I asked where. She said in New York.
Student B: I bet it’s a bigger company. She always talked about going on to bigger things.
3. Story circle.
Give a set of phrasal verbs (3-5) to each small group. They can build a story orally, helping each other to integrate their words. Alternatively, they can collectively write a story with their assigned phrasal verbs. Final stories can be shared with the whole class.
4. Gapped sentences.
Students can create a fill-in-the-blank sentence with an assigned phrasal verb. The teacher can compile the sentences into one task for everyone to complete independently. Another option is to have each student write 1-2 fill-in-the-blank sentences and swap with a partner. Partners can correct each other’s work.
5. Class poll.
Have students create a poll based on an assigned phrasal verb. If you’re back in the physical classroom, students can move around getting everyone’s answer to their question. If you’re in the virtual classroom, collect all the student-generated questions and have groups determine their answers in breakout rooms. Final results can be shared with the entire class. If time is limited, create a survey in advance and have students complete it with a partner or in small groups.
– Do you always follow a recipe or do you like to come up with your own?
– Have you ever picked up a coin off the ground?
– Would you like to go back and visit your elementary school?
Liu, D. (2011), The most frequently used English phrasal verbs in American and British English: A multicorpus examination. TESOL Quarterly, 45, 661–688.
Liu, D. and Myers, D. (2020). The most common phrasal verbs with their key meanings for spoken and academic written English: A corpus analysis. Language Teaching Research, 24(3), 403-424 (first published online in 2018).
Extending learning beyond videos and other instructional materials (2018)
Review exercises based on my original 20-Day Phrasal Verb Challenge (2015)
Phrasal Verbs and Their Particles (2012)
Phrasal Verb Dominoes (2011)
(Do a search for “phrasal verbs” to discover more activities.)
Featured photo retrieved from https://pixabay.com/photos/mountains-canada-girl-outlook-snow-3959204/.