Creative Tips

5 Tips - Teaching Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal Verbs - 5 Tips

If you ask any ESL student what the most difficult part of learning English is, you’re likely to hear the same response: phrasal verbs! Students hate them, yet they're essential when aiming to achieve fluency, and are often considered an important stepping stone for higher-level examinations. Teaching phrasal verbs might seem like a daunting task, considering there are hundreds of them, but don’t be discouraged! We're in this together.

What is a phrasal verb? By the Cambridge definition, a phrasal verb is “a phrase that consists of a verb with a preposition or adverb or both, the meaning of which is different from its separate parts.”

This concept can be difficult for ESL students because they often focus on the individual parts of the ‘phrasal verb’ rather than treating it as its own ‘new group of words’ that takes on a different meaning.

Despite their reputation, phrasal verbs don’t have to be difficult to teach or learn! Once you find a strategy that words best for your students, they’ll see that learning phrasal verbs is a rewarding experience that will both improve their fluency and give them a new perspective on the English language.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, try out five tips for teaching phrasal verbs.

1) Start small

The biggest mistake you can make is introducing a big list of phrasal verbs for your students to memorise. This can be intimidating! And considering phrasal verbs are made up of words students probably already know, explaining they have a different meaning can be down right maddening. Instead, choose to focus on a small group of commonly used phrasal verbs. We suggest: bring up, call off, come across, get along and get over. Work with these verbs in a few different lessons, using different activities which involve both recognition and repetition. After students feel comfortable with these new phrases, add some new ones to the mix!


2) Use context

Context makes all the difference when teaching phrasal verbs. Be sure to give your students lots of different examples. Find excerpts from films, books or even song lyrics to show students what phrasal verbs look like in use. Ask them to guess the meaning based on their context in the sentence. After this you can move on to specific definitions, and ask students to start thinking of their own examples. You can turn it into a game, challenging students to keep an eye out for phrasal verbs in other assignments, such as reading activities.


3) Make flash cards

Never underestimate the power of flash cards! They’re a great tool for any vocabulary building activity, and certainly work wonders when teaching phrasal verbs. For extra practice, have students hand-make their own flashcards. Have fun mixing different prepositions or adverbs with certain verbs (such as bring, get, come etc) and seeing how many combinations form commonly used phrasal verbs. Afterwords, you can use them for fun activities such as playing memory or matching games, or simply use them as a regular study tool.


4) Write a story

Challenge your students to write a creative story! This fun activity allows students to take low-stakes risks when ‘trying out’ the usage of their newly-learned phrasal verbs. Award points for each phrasal verb that is used correctly in the story.


5) Use them

Get into the habit of using phrasal verbs as much as possible throughout your lessons every time - not just in the lessons dedicated to phrasal verbs. Make it a habit and emphasise them when you use them so the students start to identify them. The repetition and 'real world' application will help them to become familiar with them in a natural and authentic way. For example, ask them if they 'bumped into' any friends on the way to class, or if they 'came across' any interesting new TV shows, or if they have anything interesting they'd like to 'bring up'.

Do you have any other tips for teaching phrasal verbs? Let us know in the comments!