What’s the big deal with phrasal verbs anyway?!

This is quite a high level lesson and it came in response to students freaking out about Phrasal Verbs. My hope was to highlight the importance of learning phrasal verbs in context and not worrying so much about learning lists of them (something which the vast majority of students seem to be obsessed with).

However, when I taught this lesson the first time, I realised that the main issue students had was not with the phrasal verbs but with the pronouns in the text. They really had trouble deciding who they were referring to. So the second time I used this story I added in a section on referencing which the students found extremely useful.

If you’ve tried any of our other story-based lessons, you’ll notice some common activities but the really interesting part is the referencing. I’ve included a short procedure below but the worksheet is pretty easy to follow.

Material:  pick up story

Textploitationtefl: What's the big deal with phrasal verbs anyway?



Creating interest in the story:

Show the students the title of the story and ask them what they think the story will be about. Ask them if they think it will be a happy story or a sad story.


First Reading / Discussion:

Get students to check their ideas from part 1 by skim reading the story and then discussing it. Discourage them from discussing vocabulary at this point.


Focus on Vocabulary:

Match the definitions to the language in the text.

Get students to underline all of the examples of “pick up” in the text. Ask them if it’s got the same meaning in each case. Using the context, ask them to come up with a definition or synonym for each situation.

It’s a good idea to have a little chat after this section on the importance of learning phrasal verbs in context and try to demystify them a little. The idea is to encourage students to notice them when they’re reading / listening and hopefully to not be as scared of them as they can often be.


Focus on Pronunciation:

Examine the features of connected speech in the direct speech from the story.  It can sometimes be good to get the students to record themselves here so they can really focus on natural speech.


Referencing within a text:

Get students to follow the instructions on the worksheet. Really encourage them to work in pairs and to discuss this as they can have some real issues with this.


Follow-up Activities:

There’s lots you can do as a follow-up to this story.

  • I find it usually leads to a discussion about living in big cities how they can be lonely places or about Facebook “friends” etc.
  • You can also get students to write the story of how some of the characters met. The focus here  can be on using the phrasal verbs in context or on referencing within the text.
  • On another occasion, I focused on the night John and Tina met. We expanded the connected speech section, discussed flirting and opening lines and then students created the dialogue and acted out their first meeting. This was obviously a lot of fun but the real challenge was getting them to mark the connected speech on the dialogue before they acted it out. For homework I asked them to try it again and to record themselves. We played them in the next lesson and there had been real improvement.

4 thoughts on “What’s the big deal with phrasal verbs anyway?!

  1. I couldn’t agree more. The key thing with teaching phrasal verbs is just treating them individually as new lexis when they pop up in a lesson. It’s a good idea to teach one phrasal per lesson, putting it on the board at the beginning of the class and leaving it there for the whole class/day so students learn them one by one. There’s no reason to students to freak out about them, as you say: they learn ‘I come from England’ and ‘I give up’ etc long before they become familiar with the concept of this type of lexis.


    • Yeh they do tend to worry about them, don’t they? I used to do a similar thing with idiom of the day. I’d draw a picture of the idiom and do a hangman and any early finishers could try to work it out. It kept my teenagers from their phones…somewhat. I like the idea of putting up a phrasal verb especially if it’s in a sentence and in the context of the lesson, they could try to work it out using what they have learnt in the lesson. cheers for that.


    • Yeah it is hard, especially if you only have the students for a short time. We try to explain to our students why we are focusing so much on context and skills based learning, what the benefits will be long term for them, but most of all, include a little of it into as many lessons as possible. But for many students it is a big obstacle.
      Another way i have found is highlighting verbs with multiple meaning, for example get, and asking them to consider how they will know which meaning it is.


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