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Help your students learn phrasal verbs effectively

Help your students learn phrasal verbs effectively

For many people, one of the most challenging aspects of learning English is the use of phrasal verbs. There are, literally, thousands of them, and no shortcuts to make them any easier. Separable and non-separable, with and without an object, with a preposition or an adverb — phrasal verbs are extremely frequent. Learning how to use them can significantly improve our language skills. As educators, we are in a unique position to teach our students how to blend these collocations naturally into their conversations. Here are some suggestions to help you find the approach that suits you best.

First of all, make sure your students really understand what a phrasal verb is. A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and a particle (a preposition, an adverb or both), whose meaning is different from its separate parts. They can have a figurative meaning that makes them harder to understand — that’s why it’s so important to show your students how to identify context clues to figure out what they mean. You can teach phrasal verbs in context with the help of YouTube videos, songs, or news articles, and have them describe each one using their own words. “Break up”, for example, can be explained with “deciding to leave a relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend”. Phrasal Verb Demon is a great digital tool students can use to work independently.

In addition, it’s a good idea to limit the number of phrasal verbs students learn every week, so that they don’t feel overwhelmed at any point. Consider three to five new phrases per week. Another useful tip is to avoid organizing them alphabetically: “give in”, “give up” and “give away” have absolutely nothing in common. Trying to memorize these three together just because they share a word will not make any difference. Instead, students can arrange them in groups they can use to talk about certain topics: describing friends, relationships, emotions, phone calls, the classroom. By establishing this kind of connection in our brain, remembering them becomes piece of cake!

Games to practice and learn

Unfortunately, there is no magic way to memorize phrasal verbs, but a little repetition and practice will do the trick. Forget about those outdated worksheets! There are many great ideas and resources that you can find with just a little research. Some of them are digital (just type “phrasal verbs” in either the App Store or Google Play, and Quizlet is always a good tool), but others are not. After all, innovation does not necessarily involve the use of technology. These are some ideas and games you may want to give a try:

-        Charades. Choose phrasal verbs that can be described physically. Write them down on small pieces of paper and place them in a small box or container. Split the class into groups and have individual students pick out a piece paper and act it out without using words.

-        Taboo. Like in the popular card game, students must explain a word (in this case, a phrasal verb) to the rest of their team, while avoiding the use of certain forbidden words.

-        Matching game with phrasal verbs and either their definitions or synonyms.

-        The Ultimate Phrasal Verb game is a creative writing activity where students work in small groups to make up a fictional story using as many phrasal verbs as possible, from a word bank provided by the teacher.