Teaching Phrasal Verbs: Ultimate Guide

Teaching phrasal verbs (or any multiword verbs) is an inevitable step as you guide your students to natural fluency.

While preparing materials for my own site, I researched teaching phrasal verbs extensively and it seems to be a hotly contested ESL topic!

After spending the better part of a year researching teaching strategies and teaching phrasal verbs extensively to my own students, I would like to present to you the ultimate guide to teaching phrasal verbs!


Grammatical Approach to Teaching Phrasal Verbs?

The grammar involved in teaching phrasal verbs is extensive and can be complex. I prefer the grammar terms used by Cowan in ‘The Teacher’s Grammar of English’, which define groups such as separable transitive phrasal verbs, inseparable transitive phrasal verbs, permanently separated phrasal verbs etc.
The question I had when researching teaching phrasal verbs is this: Does your student require the knowledge of the grammatical terms to be able to understand phrasal verbs or should you just jump straight to the most common constructions? I was concerned that younger students (10 to 14 years old) might have some difficulty with these terms or that students would lose motivation if I insisted on using them. On the other hand, I struggled to see how you could explain the following to a student without explaining the grammar:
‘The hat on which he tried did not fit properly’, is an incorrect sentence.
‘The boy for whom the police were looking was found far from home’, is a correct sentence.
teaching-phrasal-verbs teaching-phrasal-verbs

My conclusion: use a mix of grammar and common phrasal verbs constructions!

My approach so far when teaching phrasal verbs to my students has been to introduce grammatical terms slowly while exposing students to common multiword verbs. I usually start with the concept of transitive vs. intransitive (the necessity or lack of a direct object) and then switch to a review of common multiword verbs (e.g. those that use back: back down, back off, back up).
After the student has digested the concept of transitive vs. intransitive, I introduce the concept of separable vs inseparable. Once we start to approach grammar burnout again I’ll switch to teaching common phrasal verb constructions (e.g. those that use blow: blow away, blow off, blow out, blow up).
teaching phrasal verbs teaching phrasal verbs
I repeat this cycle several times with my students until we’ve covered all multiword verb constructions (phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs, phrasal prepositional verbs). So far I’ve been delighted at how even my young learners aged 10 to 14 have grasped the relatively complex grammar terminology!

If anyone is interested in seeing the lessons I produced for teaching phrasal verbs, please go to my site and let me know what you think! And of course, let us know the approach you use when teaching phrasal verbs.



    June 4, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    Thank you.
    I was thinking why you did not give some examples in sentences?

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      June 4, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      Hi Nehemiah,
      Thanks for stopping by, have you checked out our lessons, there are hundreds of phrasal verbs lessons just waiting for you and your students!

  • Glenda Moyer says:

    June 6, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    I taught phrasal verbs (the original set) with a few students during my free trial month. They were pleased enough that they recommended I get the program for the next school year. (I am the one whose credit card was not yet accepted by your system.)
    After our language department head heard their responses, she asked me to send her Off2Class’ link, and is considering it for all our ESL staff in our Colombian school. I surely hope the school’s credit card will work, should she decide to purchase your excellent program.
    Glenda Moyer
    Bogota, Colombian

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      June 6, 2015 at 10:06 pm

      Hi Glenda,
      Thank you for your response. I am really pleased to receive such feedback. I hope that you will have an opportunity to look at the new set of Phrasal Verb lessons that we have added to the site, which provide additional phrasal verbs without grammar.
      I’m really pleased to hear that your school is considering purchasing the program!
      We are going to host a webinar soon, Teaching Teachers to Teach Phrasal Verbs! It may be of interest to some of your colleagues.
      Best wishes,

  • john says:

    September 20, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    I am starting a phrasal verb teaching set please let me know what you think

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      September 21, 2015 at 2:01 am

      Hi Colin thanks for stopping by we actually have a webinar recording where we coach teachers, on teaching phrasal verbs. Actually, the least 10 minutes shows footage of my co-founder teaching phrasal verbs to one of his students (online). You can watch it here:

  • Sue says:

    March 14, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Greetings. I am interested in everything you’ve got. It’s excellent. How do I get it for my own teaching? I did register, it said an email has been sent but nothing in my inbox.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      March 14, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      Hi Sue,
      Nice to hear from you! I can see that you signed up but never confirmed your account. Sometimes the confirmation email goes to spam. I’m going to send you confirmation link now, please check your spam folders if you don’t see it shortly!

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