6 steps to teaching phrasal verbs

My students often ask me how to learn phrasal verbs and confess they genuinely hate these little monsters. At first I wasn’t sure what kind of advice I could offer. Still, I knew that suggesting learning by heart would inevitably put my learners off. I have finally come up with 6 steps that can help students learn phrasal verbs more effectively. I would like to share them with other English teachers and learners.

1. Focus on the topic

There is nothing less effective than printing off long lists of phrasal verbs organized alphabetically or trying to learn all “look” or “off” ones. What works best is learning phrasal verbs you can use to talk about a particular topic (see the example of phrasal verbs to talk about money, relationships or sport), ask and answer questions and tell stories. Phrasal verbs will become useful tools that help you to express yourself, rather than silly obstacles you have no idea how to use.

2. Make new phrasal verbs personal

The best way to deal with new vocabulary is using it in a familiar context. What’s more familiar than your own life? Try using new phrasal verbs to talk about your day, your work, family, or your free time. This way you will memorise their form and meaning better, and associate them with particular contexts or situations.

3. Pace yourself

Setting realistic goals in language learning helps us stay motivated and work systematically. Phrasal verbs may seem overwhelming at first, so it is important for you to learn them at a steady pace remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Trying to learn between 3 and 5 new phrasal verbs a week seems like a reasonable starting point. This way you will be able to get a good grasp of each verb’s meaning, form and use.

4. Keep your eyes and ears open

Once you have become aware of the existence of phrasal verbs, try to identify them when you listen or read in English. You will improve your chances of learning new vocabulary in context or see verbs you have learned in action and understand them. Now that’s real language learner’s satisfaction!

5. Remember about technology

Learning phrasal verbs doesn’t need to be a tedious task that many of us associate with memorizing and regurgitating. Not in the 21st century when we have incredible, online learning tools at our disposal. Quizlet is an amazing tool that will help you organize your phrasal verbs, learn them, and quiz yourself doing online tests and playing fun games. You can use Quizlet on your computer, tablet, and mobile. Speaking of mobiles, don’t forget about free mobile apps that can make learning and revising phrasal verbs fun and enjoyable. My two favorite ones are Phrasal Nerds and Phrasal Race.

6. Revise, revise, revise

Even if you set yourself a weekly phrasal verb challenge and deliver on Friday, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will still remember all the words on Monday. To really learn you have to revisit your verbs and consciously use them in context. You might keep sets of flashcards, write a sentence containing a phrasal verb in a separate notebook, set phrasal verbs reminders on your mobile, calendar or email, make a lovely phrasal verbs screen saver or a desktop wallpaper, record yourself using phrasal verbs in sentences and listen to it on your iPod, use online tools I have mentioned, the list goes on. The most important thing is not to lose sight of the vocabulary you’ve learned.

Here are 5 activity ideas that will help your students revise and consolidate new phrasal verbs.

What advice do you give students who struggle with phrasal verbs?


How to learn phrasal verb effectively

Learning phrasal verbs infographic



    • Excellent, Mura, thanks! Another useful addition to my phrasal verbs toolkit. I’ll share with my troubled students this week:)

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