My intermediate grammar class has arrived at the chapter on phrasal verbs, and I am faced with the question: How do I teach the grammar of phrasal verbs?  In the end, I’ve decided I don’t. At least, I don’t teach only their grammar. I’ve come to the conclusion that phrasal verbs are as much vocabulary as they are grammar.

This notion allows me to use vocabulary learning strategies to help students build on what they know and help each other discover what they don’t.

The downloadable handout accompanying this article is a list of 32 phrasal verbs that can take complements. I use it on the first day to establish a foundation for phrasal verbs before moving on to issues of separable and non-separable. The task asks students to work in a jigsaw to come up with three complements for each of eight phrasal verbs, thus embedding meaning and consolidating it through collocations. My reasoning is that it might be better at this point to have them come up with three meaningful chunks rather than one full sentence. We can do the full sentences later.



Time: about 45 minutes

Materials: Copies of the handout, one for each student


Start by organizing the class into four groups. Ideally you would have four groups of four (16 total), but I usually have more, which is okay, as long as there are at least four in each group.

Assign each group to one set of phrasal verbs from the list.  Group A can do 1-8; Group B 9-16; Group C 17-24; and Group D 25 – 32. Each group then discusses the meaning of its set and writes three logically appropriate complements in the blank columns to the right. Consider doing one as an example on the board—one that is not on the list, such as “talk up.”  Elicit or discuss the meaning and complements: talk up the pronunciation class / a proposal / a new restaurant.

Give the groups about 20 minutes to complete their sets as you move around to check for correct meaning and form. After 20 minutes, stop the groups and count the students in each group up to four, then start again with one. You will be forming new groups, and this counting is to ensure that each new group has at least one student from each original group.


Have the students stand up and regroup with others of the same number. Instruct them to teach their set of phrasal verbs to the new group so that by the end of the task, everyone ends up with a list of 32 phrasal verbs with possible complements. Consider a follow-up consolidation activity, best done on a projector, in which you answer questions about meaning and/or check for accuracy. Another option might be to number off the phrasal verbs and assign individuals to write questions which they can then use to practice with each other.