Drawing Phrasal Verbs

Mike Astbury

Mike Astbury is a freelance English teacher working in Brno, in the Czech Republic. He’s been making games longer than he’s been teaching and is passionate about making effective teaching materials with a focus on learners’ needs. So, he’s written an article for us, where he combines his love of games with phrasal verbs!

This low preparation game is designed to help students practise a language structure with micro-writing, and create memorable sentences and pictures that reinforce its meaning. In this example I’m looking at phrasal verbs with an upper-intermediate (B2) class but it’s highly adaptable and could be used with a variety of vocabulary or grammar.


You need some small pieces of paper, big enough for a single sentence. I use a guillotine to chop up some A4 paper as shown below:

You also need a piece of A4 paper for each student. I always use scrap paper since it doesn’t matter if there’s something printed on the back.

My class is looking at phrasal verbs with take, give, get and put. I start by writing these on the board and giving students three minutes, working in pairs, to think of as many phrasal verbs as they can that start with these verbs.

We then do a quick board race; I give a few board pens out to the class and they have three minutes to add any participles that fit. Students write a single word, then pass the pen to the next student. When they’re finished, I ask them to discuss the phrasal verbs on the board in groups of three and categorise them in terms of how confident they are with using them – from 5, ‘very confident’, to 1, ‘I don’t know it’.

This preparation stage isn’t strictly necessary to play the game but I would use something like this to quickly check my students’ knowledge of, and confidence with, the target language. While students are talking I monitor, interject and give examples where necessary. I also make sure to elicit multiple meanings, such as “take off”, which could refer to a plane, removing clothes or a career.

How to play

Students work in pairs, and each pair is given eight small pieces of paper. They are asked to work together and write eight sentences using the phrasal verbs on the board. They shouldn’t use phrasal verbs that they rated as 1 or 5 in the preparation stage. When students are writing sentences they need to follow a set of rules. These rules give the sentences a relatable context and help make the sentences interesting to draw for the drawing stage (which students aren’t aware of yet).

Here are some examples of rules I’ve used in the past. You can use any variations of these and make them more or less challenging depending on your class.

  • Include at least 10 words
  • Include an animal acting like a person
  • Include an unusual location


You could also relate the sentences to a topic you’re covering at the time, for example: ‘every sentence needs to be about the worst holiday ever’ if your class are studying tourism.

Monitor and support students while they write, assisting and eliciting corrections where necessary. Ideally every group should finish with eight sentences, but once every group has at least six sentences you can move onto the next step.

Hand each student a piece of A4 paper and ask them to fold it in half twice, and then unfold it, so that it is divided into four equal parts. Then, still working in pairs, they shuffle their sentences and take one each. Students have to quickly draw their sentence in one corner of their A4 page. Once they have both drawn their picture, they reveal them to each other and they have to guess which sentence inspired the drawing.

When they’re guessing they should try to be as close to the original sentence as possible. This round is challenging, but achievable since they only have to remember their own eight sentences and even a terrible drawing should help them recall the sentence.

They keep playing until they have each drawn four pictures and they’ve used all of their sentences.

Follow up

Once every group has finished, they collect their eight sentences and shuffle them. Then each pair passes their sentences and pictures clockwise to the next group so that everyone has a new set of sentences and pictures. Now, each pair has to work together to match their new sentences to their corresponding pictures. This should be pretty quick, and when a pair has finished they pass them along to the next group so that all of the sentences and pictures work their way around the room.

This is a fun way for students to see everyone else’s work, be exposed to a lot of memorable language and get some useful context for phrasal verbs they may not be familiar with.

Finally, when the pictures are returned to the students who drew them, students should pass the pictures but keep the sentences. Then, when students are looking at their own pictures, they have to work together to remember their own sentences and write them next to the pictures. When they’re done, they can collect the sentences and check their answers.

Collect in the sentences for feedback and corrections next lesson.

Visit Mike’s website, Teaching Games EFL, for many more classroom activities. If you want to play some games that include drawing, Mike recommends I wish and Monikers (a.k.a. Celebrities)!

If you found this article interesting, you might also enjoy Michael McCarthy’s post where he questions why we should teach phrasal verbs. If you need guidance with phrasal verbs, our in Use series will be able to help!

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