Saturday, 17 November 2007

How to teach phrasal verbs to ESL students

I received an email last week from a teacher asking me how to practise phrasal verbs with her small class of twelve 12 year old children and I'd like to share the following idea with you.

Phrasal verbs need to be learned in the same way as any other type of verb. Students need to learn the phrasal verb as a vocabulary item and also how to use it in sentences. It can help to learn meanings in one lesson and work on integrating the language in a different session. This anyway is helpful with lower levels so students are not overwhelmed.

A fun game to use to teach the vocabulary side of phrasal verbs is Call My Bluff Definitions. Here you give each student a phrasal verb to look up in the dictionary and ask everyone to write down the true meaning plus make up two false meanings. It is good to set this for homework so as not to use precious class time. If you want to simplify have students write only two definitions, one true and one false.

At the next lesson each student reads out the phrasal verb followed by the three definitions. The class stand up and listen all three definitions once. Then on the second reading students sit down if they think a definition is false and stay standing if they think it is true.

Let's say the first definition is false and half the students sit down. All those sitting down are still in the game so those standing put their hands on the heads and sit down. They are out for this round. Those still in stand up again and the student reads out definition two. Those who have it wrong are out again and sit down with their hands on their heads. Those that are in continue until all three definitions have been read out. You then let those students award themselves a point. Now everyone is back in again for the next phrasal verb.

If playing with adults you can leave out putting hands on heads. That is just a mechanism to prevent cheating, which children are possibly more likely to do than adults!

So now the students understand the phrasal verbs you can proceed with some listening, speaking and writing drills to practise them as you would any grammatical structure and for ideas you can sign up to the free games if you haven't already on ESL Games and Activities

Feel free to go ahead and add your comment on this game and give your own ideas on teaching phrasal verbs.

Happy teaching


  1. sounds good... I'm going to try it!

  2. Love it!!!! Thank you very much

  3. I really love the idea. The game will surely get the students' attention. I'm curious though if you might have a suggestion for me. I'm a full-time private tutor so I usually always teach one on one. Thanks!

  4. Hi Jessica,
    Thanks for your comment and I'm glad you like the idea.

    I do have a dedicated one on one games book with video demos as well as the games written up but it only does kids up to about age 12.

    Some of the games are fine for adults but if you only taught adults I don't think it would be worth getting it.

    Here's the link anyway in case you do teach kids, or if you'd like to watch the free demo video on the site:

    All the best