Phrasal verbs are a verb + preposition, adverb or particle. Teaching phrasal verbs is notoriously difficult because the verb often bears no relation to the meaning.
And yet, phrasal verbs are everywhere in English.
And so, on some deeper level phrasal verbs must make sense. We may not be able to explain adequately how we know what they mean but we do know what they mean. For example, as children we didn’t struggling to remember the difference between ‘to take up’ and ‘to take on.’ We understood it intuitively.
Likewise, when we come across a new phrasal verb like ‘lawyer up’ or, ‘wind down’, we instantly understand the meaning, even though no one has told us its denotation.
What an amazing power we native speakers have. Wouldn’t you love to share this gift with your ESL students? The TEFL teacher who helps their students crack the code of phrasal verbs would be the best teacher they’d ever meet in their lives.
Well, there is a way to share your deeper knowledge of phrasal verbs to your students. That is, teaching the phrasal verb by the preposition and not the verb.
This is a revolutionary idea, when you think about it. For decades ESL teachers have been asking students to memorise lists of phrasal verbs without analysing the deeper meaning. All the meaning, when you think about it, is found in the preposition and not the verb.
Take the verb: ‘To take on.’ It means to assume responsibility, work, clients or staff.
‘Take’ in this case, doesn’t make any sense but ‘on’ really does.
Phrasal verbs with ‘on’ have two meanings (see below for more details). One of the meanings is ‘to attach.’ For example:
‘To put on’ = to attach clothing to yourself.‘
‘To try on’ = to attach clothing to yourself, but only for trying.
If you focus on ‘on’ for ‘to attach,’ ‘to take on’ makes perfect sense. An individual or company is ‘taking work, responsibility, clients or staff’ and then, ‘attaching those responsibilities to themselves.’
‘Steve takes on a project’ = Steve takes that project and attaches it to himself until he completes it.
You explain the verb in this way, focusing on preposition and ‘to take on’ suddenly makes perfect sense.
Below you will find 135 common phrasal verbs divided by preposition with meanings and explanations. It is important to recognise that not every phrasal verb has preposition that makes sense (for example, ‘to take up tennis’) but most of them do.
1# This list is too long to teach in one go. Therefore, only teach one preposition per session.
2# Illustrate each preposition with lots of examples until your students are completely confident of the meanings
3# Practice with conversation questions or a role play.
4# Next session, study the opposite preposition. For example, if you start with, ‘on’, next you should teach, ‘off.’ If you start with, ‘up’ next you should teach, ‘down.’
5# This each phrasal verb list can be downloaded as a pdf to give to your ESL students as a hand out in class.