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ESL Lesson Plan For Teaching English Phrasal Verbs

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 12/10/2013

Phrasal verbs are a verb form unique to Germanic languages including the English language. This English phrasal verbs ESL lesson plan includes the necessary information and some suggested activities for teaching phrasal verbs to ESL students.

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    What Are Phrasal Verbs?

    Begin the English phrasal verbs ESL lesson by providing a definition of the term "phrasal verb" for English language learners. Some English frequent definitions include:

    • an English verb followed by one or more particles where the combination behaves as a syntactic and semantic unit [1]
    • a verb and one or more additional words, having the function of a verb [2]
    • a verb plus a preposition or adverb which creates a meaning different from the original verb [3]
    • idiomatic expressions, combining verbs and prepositions to make new verbs whose meaning is often not obvious from the dictionary definitions of the individual words [4]
    • a verb phrase followed by a marooned preposition; the phrasal verb forms a semantic constituent whose meaning is not determined by the verb phrase or preposition as individual parts but rather by the whole phrasal verb as a single lexical item [5]

    The most important points to teach about phrasal verbs are:

    • Phrasal verbs are periphrastic, meaning that a phrase of two or more words express a grammatical relationship that could otherwise be expressed through the inflection of a single word.
    • Phrasal verbs consist of a verb followed by at least one preposition that performs the grammatical function of particle.
    • Phrasal verbs may be transitive or intransitive depending on the specific phrasal verb.
    • Phrasal verbs are idiomatic, meaning that the meaning of a phrasal verb cannot be determined by combining the meanings of the verb and preposition but must be learned as a single lexical item.

    If possible, use examples of similar verbs from the students' first languages to help clarify what a phrasal verb is. For example, other Germanic languages like German and Dutch have verbs similar to English phrasal verbs in the form of separable prefix verbs.

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    Examples of Phrasal Verbs

    Next, teach the four types of phrasal verbs in English. Provide examples of each phrasal verb type. The four types of English phrasal verbs are:

    1. Intransitive phrasal verbs
    2. Nonseparable transitive phrasal verbs
    3. Optionally separable transitive phrasal verbs
    4. Obligatorily separable transitive phrasal verbs

    Intransitive phrasal verbs do not or cannot take a direct object. For example:

    • The baby woke up early today. (wake up)
    • His grandmother recently passed away (pass away)
    • My son finally nodded off around midnight. (nod off)

    Nonseparable transitive phrasal verbs take direct objects. The particle must directly follow the verb. For example:

    • The cowboy got on his horse. (get on)
    • My classmates are boning up on verbs. (bone up on)
    • She ran into an old friend. (run into)

    Optionally separable transitive phrasal verbs also take direct objects. The particle may follow the verb or the direct object. For example:

    • The woman called off the date. (call off)
    • The woman called the date off. (call off)
    • Many gas stations are jacking up their prices. (jack up)
    • Many gas stations are jacking their prices up. (jack up)

    Obligatorily separable transitive phrasal verbs take direct objects in the form of pronouns. The particle must directly follow the direct object. For example:

    • The librarian looked it up. (look up)
    • He must have made it up. (make up)
    • The children wore it out. (wear out)

    Provide plenty of examples of each type of phrasal verb.

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    Phrasal Verb Practice Exercises

    After ESL students understand the concept of the phrasal verb and have learned the four types of phrasal verbs, assign activities to practice this new verb form. For example:

    • Vocabulary practice: Create phrasal verb dictionaries in which students collect lists of phrasal verbs heard or read throughout the day.
    • Reading practice: Have students identify the phrasal verbs in reading passages. Also have students identify the type of phrasal verb.
    • Writing practice: Have the students write short dialogues that include as many phrasal verbs as possible. Optionally have the students read their dialogues aloud to the class.
    • Speaking practice: Ask the students questions that must be answered with a sentence that contains a phrasal verb, e.g., When did you wake up today? → I woke up at seven o'clock.
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    Phrasal verbs are a common verb form in the English language. This English phrasal verbs ESL lesson plan provides the necessary information and some suggested activities for teaching for teaching phrasal verbs to English language learners.

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