Phrasal Verbs are really tricky for our students. It’s just hard to get them right, and they are everywhere in the English language. It’s high time for some new teaching tips, activities and games to help you make phrasal verbs fun – and to help your students remember them. We hope you’ll enjoy using them in your classroom!
The tips and activities in this post are based on Celia Wigley and Lisa Sutherland’s talk at the IATEFL 2013 conference. Celia is our Publishing Manager and Lisa is Commissioning Editor in the Collins ELT team. Their talk was based on the work and research they did for Collins Work on your Phrasal Verbs and the new edition of the Collins COBUILD Phrasal Verbs Dictionary.
What is a phrasal verb?
Phrasal verbs are combinations of verbs with an adverbial or prepositional particle (or particles).
They can initially seem deceptively easy, as students might be familiar with both the verb and the particle, but may find that they don’t understand the meaning of the combination, as it can be very different to the meaning of the two words when they are used independently of each other.
Why are phrasal verbs important?
Phrasal verbs are very common – they appear in all areas of English, from business English and academic English right the way through to informal, spoken English.
Using phrasal verbs correctly makes your English sound natural and fluent and they occur so frequently in English that students need to master them if they are ever going to progress.
What makes phrasal verbs so tricky?
• Grammar– is the phrasal verb separable? Does it take an object?
• Collocations– which words do you use with it?
• Register– are phrasal verbs always informal? Is a single-word verb more appropriate?
• Meanings– a single phrasal verb can have multiple meanings. How do you learn them all?
• Particles– are there any rules about what they mean?
What’s important for the learner when trying to remember phrasal verbs?
• Learn as single units of meaning
• Use in full sentences
• Group by topic
• Remember with images/stories
• Identify in context
• Understand common particles
• Learn common nouns
Our seven favourite classroom games and activities to practise phrasal verbs
1) Simon says with phrasal verbs
Aim: This activity is perfect to practise classroom English phrases.
Preparation: You will need to have in mind some of the phrasal verbs you usually use to give students instructions in the classroom such as stand up, sit down, pick up your pen, put your pen down, turn on/off the lights, turn on/off your phone, throw that piece of paper/that piece of gum away, and so on. Units 1 and 2 in Work on your Phrasal Verbs contain lots of basic actions you could use for this activity.
Activity: Shout out the instructions – some with ‘Simon says’ before the instruction, and some without it. Students are only supposed to follow your instructions if you say ‘Simon says’ before the instruction. Otherwise, they should ignore it. If they don’t ignore/follow accordingly, they are out of the game. The last student in the game wins!
Adaptation idea: You don’t necessarily have to give all the instructions yourself. Why not let the winning student take over and let them give instructions to the other students – and to you?
2) Phrasal verbs pictionary
Aim: This activity is great to check if students have understood the meanings of phrasal verbs – you could use it as a revision activity.
Preparation: Prepare about 50 pieces of paper with different phrasal verbs on them. You could, for example, select a couple of units in Work on your Phrasal Verbs, and just note the phrasal verbs down.
Activity: Select a student to pull one of the phrasal verbs out of a container, a bag or a hat, and ask the student to draw the phrasal verb on the board. The other students guess what the phrasal verb is.
Adaptation idea: If you’re not a massive friend of drawing, you could also simply play the Hangman game with Phrasal Verbs.
3) Everything but the phrasal verb
Aim: Perfect to revise phrasal verbs and check if students have understood their meanings. It’s also a great activity to practice the skill of paraphrasing.
Preparation: If you’d like to use this as a revision activity, you could prepare some pieces of paper with the phrasal verbs you’d like to revise written on. If you are working with Work on your Phrasal Verbs, you could choose phrasal verbs based on the topic you are teaching at the time. Each unit in Work on your Phrasal Verbs contains full-sentence dictionary definitions with example sentences and extra background notes on usage of each phrasal verb dealt with in the unit.
Activity: A student picks a phrasal word and has about 1 minute to describe it – without using either the verb of the particle. The other students guess the meaning.
Aim: Great to practise using phrasal verbs in sentences.
Preparation: Prepare pieces of paper with phrasal verbs written on them. Write down different sentences with the phrasal verbs in them. Make sure that only one of the phrasal verbs goes with each sentence. If you use Work on your Phrasal Verbs, just pick a list from one of the chapters you’d like to revise – each phrasal verb in the list includes an example sentence you could use.
Game: Give each student a phrasal verb. Then read out sentences with the phrasal verb ‘beeped out’ – ie. you don’t mention it but say ‘beep’ instead. The student with the correct phrasal verb has to stand up when they hear the sentence that goes with ‘their’ phrasal verb in it. They then have to repeat the complete sentence – now with the phrasal verb.
Extension idea: A bit more advanced – but also more fun! You could split up the phrasal verbs so that the verb is with one student, and the particle with another. In this way, two students will have to co-ordinate.
5) Board sentences
Aim: Fantastic to practise how to use phrasal verbs in sentences. It’s also great if you’d like to check which phrasal verbs are still tricky for your students. They will be the ones that haven’t been selected by them.
Preparation: Write phrasal verbs all over the board, and put students in teams of four.
Activity: Give the team 3 minutes to write as many sentences as possible with the phrasal verbs on the board. Each phrasal verb is to be used in one sentence only. Review the sentences together, and tick the phrasal verbs that have been used on the board. The whole class now discusses whether the sentences of a group are correct or not. A completely correct sentence is 3 points – deduct 1 point for spelling and grammar mistakes, and 2 points for incorrect use of the phrasal verb. The group with the most points wins in the end.
Extension idea: You can give out bonus points for additional sentences with the phrasal verbs that no group has chosen to use. We recommend you focus on these after the activity – as they are the ones your students are still least comfortable with.
6) Cut up phrasal verbs
Aim: This activity is useful if you want to practise form – ie. which particles go with which verbs.
Preparation: Print out and cut up phrasal verbs of your choice so that the verbs and the particles are on different pieces of papers.
Game: Put students in teams of two and give each pair about 10 cut up phrasal verbs. Tell the students that they will be asked to match the verbs to the correct particles as quickly as possible – and that their team should stand up when they are ready. The quickest team wins – provided they arranged the phrasal verbs the right way!
Extension idea: Rather than phrasal verbs only, you can also print out sentences with phrasal verbs in and cut the words up (make sure the phrasal verb is cut up in 2 pieces – ie. the verb and particle should be separate again). Ask students to put the words in the correct order. This activity is fantastic to check if students know whether the phrasal verbs are separable or inseparable.
7) Phrasal verbs in a bag
Preparation: Write about 20 different phrasal verbs on pieces of paper (pick the ones you’d like to revise), and put them in a bag or a hat.
Activity: Ask students to take out three, four or five of the phrasal verbs and write a story, a news article, a conversation, or a film script incorporating the phrasal verbs into it. You can do this activity in groups, pairs or as individuals.