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Mobile English: Secret instructions

Level: Starter/beginner, Elementary, Pre-intermediate, Intermediate Type: General lesson plan

Students use mobile phones or voice recorders to deliver instructions that include phrasal verbs/verb + particles.

Level: Beginner (A1) +
Interaction: pairs, whole class
Aim: To record instructions, and understand and follow instructions given by others.
Language focus: imperatives, phrasal verbs/verb + particles for physical movement (e.g. stand up, pick up, put down, throw away, etc.)
Technology: students’ mobile phones (with audio recording) or digital recorders

Before the class

Check whether all your students have mobile phones with the capacity to record audio or a digital recorder. Most low-end mobile phones these days can record audio. If students don’t each have a mobile phone or a digital recorder, put them in pairs for Step 5 of the activity, with one phone or recorder per pair.


1. Start the class with a Total Physical Response (TPR) warmer activity. Ask students to listen and to follow your instructions in silence. Read out the following text, pausing after each sentence so that students can physically do the action:

Stand up. Sit down. Stand up and turn around to face the back of the classroom. Turn around again to the front. Pick up a pen. Put it on your head. Put it down on the floor. Pick it up again. Put it back on your desk.

2. Tell students they will need to write out these exact instructions from memory, so you will do it with them again to help them remember. Repeat Step 1 above slowly and clearly.

3. Ask students to work in pairs to write out your instructions from Step 1 above from memory. If they have problems remembering, you may want to repeat Step 1 for a third time, after letting them write for a few minutes.

4. Before you allow students to check their writing, ask them what verbs and particles are in the instructions. Elicit a list of the verbs and write them on the board: stand up, sit down, turn around, pick up, put on, put down, put back. Give students the text of the instructions from Step 1 (write it on the board), so they can check their work.

5. Tell students they are going to create secret instructions for a partner by recording these instructions on their mobile phones or digital recorders. If everyone has access to a mobile phone or digital recorder, students can work individually to create instructions. If not, they can work in pairs to create instructions for another pair. Students can use some of the verb + particles from Step 1, but they should also try to include some different phrasal verbs/verb + particles. Elicit other possible phrasal verbs/verb + particles of movement by miming them for the class and adding them to the board, e.g. throw away, throw up, throw down; pull out, pull up, pull off; take out, take away, take off, etc. The higher the level of the class, the more phrasal verbs/verbs + particles you can list. For beginners, you may just want to use those from Step 1 so as not to overload the students. Make it clear to students that their secret instructions should include actually finding and moving an object in the classroom – in this way they will be able to see whether their partner has correctly understood and carried out the task.

6. Give students five to ten minutes of preparation time before recording. For lower-level students, you can encourage them to first write out their instructions in full so you can help them with these as necessary. Higher-level students may prefer to simply make notes as preparation.

7. Once students have their instructions prepared, tell them to take out their mobile phones or digital recorders and record their instructions. Give them a time limit for this of about ten minutes. Encourage students to listen back to their instructions and to delete and re-record if they are not happy with the first few recordings.

8. Ask students (or pairs) to exchange mobile phones or digital recorders to listen to their partner’s instructions and to follow the instructions they hear.

9. Conduct class feedback. Ask students: Who managed to successfully follow the instructions? What was difficult about the activity? What was easy?


Students listen to their partner’s instructions again as a dictation activity and write the instructions out in full. Pairs then compare and check each other’s work for accuracy.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • UPDATE: We have added the term 'verb + particles' to make it clear that some of the phrases are phrasal verbs an some are verb + particles.

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  • Hi Suzy,

    Thanks for your feedback. This is an interesting point. As you rightly say, a phrasal verb is a single semantic unit whose meaning cannot be understood from its composite parts. 'Take off' used in the phrase 'take off your jacket' is indeed a verb with a particle and 'take off' used in the phrase 'the share price took off' is distinct from it in that it is a phrasal verb as in its meaning is not discernible from its individual parts.

    However, would it not be more confusing to try and tell students that take off can be both a phrasal verb and also not a phrasal verb depending on the usage? Surely it is better to teach it as a phrasal verb and also teach its multiple uses?

    Let us know what you think.

    Best wishes,

    The onestopenglish team

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  • Most of these are not phrasal verbs. They are simply verbs with particles e.g. take off - take off your coat A phrasal verb has a unique meaning not deducible from its component parts. e.g take off - the share price took off (rose quickly).

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