If it weren’t for those pesky phrasal verbs | TEFL Jobs London

If it weren’t for those pesky phrasal verbs

by Donna Hutchinson
London based TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara

If you asked my class whether they did any work on phrasal verbs, I worry that they might let out a groan of frustration. Although, I like to believe this is just projection. Once you’re aware of phrasal verbs it is quite astounding how much we, as native English speakers, use them. During my CELTA, an awareness of phrasal verbs was something I learnt very early on when in my first solo session, I asked my intermediate students to take down what I was writing on the board. As I turned round to face them after scrawling on the board I was hit when a sea of blank faces. I repeated my request to no avail until someone eventually asked, whist glancing around at the walls, “take what down from where?” Henceforth I was acutely aware of how much phrasal verbs can confuse lower-level learners and moreover, just how often I used them.

In recent times I have been teaching higher-level students who may use a few phrasal verbs themselves or in any case, are more aware of their usage in English. The thing is, I’m struggling to find an effective way of teaching them.

A few problems arise with phrasal verbs. The first is that some are literal and some are idiomatic; some are separable and some are not but the biggest problem, I find, is that there are so many and just one, such as ‘come up’ can have a multitude of different meanings.

I’ve taught phrasal verbs as related to a certain topic. Recent examples would be Lent (giving something up) or illnesses and ailments (come down with something) both topics providing a smorgasbord of phrasal verbs. Too many, if anything. I’ve taught phrasal verbs by category for instance, those that have the particle ‘on’. I’ve taught them with gap-fills, matching tasks, tests, all skills-based tasks, the list goes on. It’s not that my students aren’t taking them in (look, there’s one!), there isn’t a problem with comprehension, it’s just that I feel as though there’s something missing between learning about them in the classroom and using them.

I’ve read that many other languages don’t have an equivalent to phrasal verbs so perhaps it is down to this and there’s something to be taken from this fact in order to make learning phrasal verbs better. And besides, it’s not just something I’ve deemed must be at the top of my student’s list of things to study but it is a part of the English language they have mentioned they want to learn more about because just as I was aware of not using them with lower-levels, they are aware that in order to sound more fluent and natural, phrasal verbs are key.  So it is with a conviction that I continue my quest to find a way of bridging the gap between the learning and usage of these pesky verbs. Bring it on, I say!

….See what I did there?

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