Posted tagged ‘multi-word verbs’

Turning Informal Into Formal: A writing activity for phrasal verbs

October 23, 2009

The purpose of this exercise is to reinforce students’ understanding of the differences between formal and informal English, highlighting the role phrasal verbs can play in changing the register. Students will begin with informal speech and edit it for a more formal context, using one-word equivalents for the selected phrasal verbs.


Level: High intermediate to advanced

STEP 1 – Ask students to name people in positions of power who can effect change, for example, a president, mayor, or school director. List their ideas on the board.

STEP 2 – Ask the students to choose one person in power and list 2-3 actions they would like that person to take. Each item on the list must use at least one phrasal verb. Be sure students have access to a good phrasal verb reference chart that includes definitions, such as the one in the appendix of Book 4 of the Focus in Grammar series. Model:

I want our governor to:

  • come up with a way to help out state college students with tuition
  • put together a program to help students find work after college
  • make laws that will stop people from using up too much gas, water, and electricity

STEP 3 – Students will use their lists to compose a short letter. Model the business letter format on the board, indicating the correct positions of the addresses, the greeting, the closing, and the signature.  In the body of the letter, one-word equivalents must replace the phrasal verbs. (Additional revisions may be necessary to increase the formality, e.g., elimination of contractions and abbreviations, more appropriate greetings and closings, etc.) Model:

Dear Sir:

I would like to make three requests. First, I kindly ask you to find a way to assist students who attend state colleges. Tuition is difficult to pay, and students like me need more help to get a good education. Second, the state government needs to create a program to help students find work after college. You could create free job centers at libraries, for example. Finally, I am worried about the environment. I believe the state government can make new laws that will stop people from wasting gas, water, and electricity. Until there are such laws, people will continue to waste.

Thank you.



VARIATION: Instead of a business letter, students can write a short article. Tell them to imagine they are writing for a local newspaper. The headline can be Time for Change or Changes We Need.

Putting Together a Narrative: An activity for phrasal verbs

October 21, 2009

This activity puts a spin on a familiar classroom game: chain stories. It’s best to do it in writing so that the final product(s) can be reviewed. One option is to work as a class, having each student make a one or two-line contribution with the teacher acting as the scribe at the board. A more interesting and perhaps more beneficial approach is to have several stories being formed at once on paper.  More stories mean more contexts in which to study the given phrasal verbs. I will use this second option to illustrate the activity.


Objective: To increase awareness of object placement with transitive phrasal verbs

Level: Intermediate to advanced

STEP 1 – Select 6-8 transitive phrasal verbs and list them on the board. Include both separable and inseparable phrasal verbs. Be sure students have access to a phrasal verb reference chart to confirm definitions and whether a given verb is separable or inseparable. You can cue them by listing the phrasal verbs with objects in correct positions. Model:

                Ask someone over

                Go along with something/ someone

                Hang something up

                Look forward to something

                Point something out

                Show something off

                Talk someone into something (or doing something)

                Think something over

                Wake someone up


STEP 2 – Next to the list of phrasal verbs, write 8-10 possible objects. You can ask students to volunteer ideas. Try to include some unusual choices to make the activity interesting. You should also include one or two pronouns and at least one very long object that will force students to make a decision regarding the best position of the object in a separable phrasal verb. Model:

                a really cool-looking sports car

                a late night party


                a problem

                big scary dogs




                an idea which at any other time would sound crazy

                the question


STEP 3 – Ask students to work in pairs. Give each pair a blank sheet of paper. They must choose one phrasal verb and one object from the list to begin a short story. Once they write their first line, they pass their paper to the pair on the left. Students will continue the story they’ve just received by using a different phrasal verb and a different object from the lists. Sometimes an additional sentence will be necessary to transition from one idea to the next. This second sentence doesn’t have to contain a phrasal verb. End the activity when each story has five or six phrasal verbs. 

STEP 4 – Collect all the stories. Read each one aloud to the class. As you read each line aloud, allow for feedback and corrections.

Possible story:

Jim was taking a nap. His brother, Matt, woke him up.

Jim and Matt had plans. Their friend Pete had asked them over.

Jim and Matt were looking forward to a late night party at Pete’s house.

Pete wanted to show off a really cool-looking sports car which his parents bought for him.

When the brothers got to Pete’s house, Jim pointed out a problem – big scary dogs.

Pete spoke sweetly and talked them into leaving Pete’s front door.  Now they could go in and have fun!

Student Stumper 10: Figuring out phrasal verbs

October 19, 2009

QUESTION: How can we know if a phrasal verb is separable or inseparable?

ANSWER: There isn’t always an easy way to find this out, but a good appendix like those in the upper level books of the Focus on Grammar series will prove to be a useful reference for students. The authors of books 3, 4, and 5 included lists of intransitive and transitive phrasal verbs, noting in the latter which transitive phrasal verbs can or must be separated.

You can explain that three-word verbs are easier to work with than two-word verbs. Three-word verbs end with a preposition. The preposition must be followed by an object. One general rule is not to separate a three-word phrasal verb:

                Come up with something

                Follow through with something

                Get out of something

               Go along with something

               Keep up with someone

There are exceptions to the rule but not many. Consider three-word verbs that take two objects. The first object must separate the verb from the adverb particle:

                Give it up for John! = Let’s applaud John!

                Put it down to inexperience = The cause is/ was inexperience.

Of course, since prepositions are followed by objects, students could be taught to categorize phrasal verbs according to whether the verb is followed by an adverb, a preposition, or both. This practice makes the distinction among phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs, and phrasal prepositional verbs. I’ve come to prefer simplifying my instruction and using the term particle to refer to the short words following the verb.  I think it’s less taxing to simply view the phrasal verb as a unit: a verb plus one or two particles. As each two- or three-word unit is studied, the student must learn three things about it: what it means, if it’s transitive or intransitive, and if it’s transitive whether it can be separated or not.

How do you teach phrasal verbs? What terms do you use with your students when talking about structure?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 856 other followers