Number one for English language teachers

Phrasal verbs: Teaching a thematic 'set' of phrasal verbs and personalizing new phrasal verbs – tips and activities

Level: Intermediate Type: Reference material

Tips and activities for teaching a thematic set of phrasal verbs.

Introduction | Stage one | Stage two | Tips for understanding phrasal verbs | Stage three | Stage four | Grammar of phrasal verbs | Stage five

Anchor Point:introIntroduction

Another way of teaching phrasal verbs is by teaching a thematic 'set' of phrasal verbs. All the phrasal verbs are linked together by a common thread. Some examples of thematic sets would include:

  • relationships (ask out, break up, settle down, get along…)
  • travel (go away, set off, take off, touch down…)
  • work (clock in, slack off, take on, wind up)

The lesson at the bottom of the page is for intermediate students and is on the theme of “secrecy” and “holding and giving information”. It includes a speaking activity for students to personalise the newly learnt phrasal verbs.

Aim: To present a set of 9 phrasal verbs. The phrasal verbs are all connected to the theme of giving and obtaining information. There is a recognition based activity, followed by a speaking activity to incorporate the phrasal verbs into use.

Level: Intermediate

Teaching approach:
In this lesson, the phrasal verbs are all linked thematically. This helps provide a context from which their meaning can be more easily deduced. But it is not enough to just present a set of new phrasal verbs, even if they are more neatly organised into a category. As with other new items of vocabulary, learners should get a chance to use them. The reformulation of the original questionnaire and the optional follow up provide two good ways of putting the new words to use: getting the students to personalize them.

Anchor Point:1Stage one

Think of something interesting about yourself that you could share with your class. Ask them to come in closer and tell them that you are going to let them in on a little secret. Act conspiratorial. Pause. Then tell them the information (for example: I know it was a very bad thing to do, but I once stole a chocolate bar from a shop ) If it is suitable, encourage them to ask you more questions. (When? When I was eight years old. Did you get caught? No, but my parents found out from my friend etc.) Ask your students if any of them have a little bit of interesting information they would like to share. Don’t let this go on too long, but respond to one or two students if they want to share something with the class.

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Anchor Point:2Stage two

Explain that in today’s class that they are going to learn some different ways to talk about giving, keeping and holding information. Put the students into pairs and distribute the questionnaire. Emphasize that the students are not required to share any secrets with each other if they don’t want to! Circulate while students do the questionnaire, but don’t interrupt them.

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Anchor Point:3Tips for understanding phrasal verbs


Sometimes you can understand the phrasal verb by looking at the particle (the second word). The particle OUT can sometimes mean removed. The phrasal verb let out has this meaning when referring to a secret. The secret is removed from hiding. Look at these other examples where OUT means removed:

1. Removed from being unknown:

I didn’t mean to say that. It just slipped out!
All the information about the war is coming out now.
When she found out the truth, she was very sad.

2. Removed from a place ( a more literal interpretation of OUT):

If you start a fight in the bar, you will be thrown out.
It took a long time to get out of building.
Every night I take out the garbage.

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Anchor Point:4Stage three

Draw students attention to number 3 on the worksheet and explain that these are what some English speakers said in answer to the questionnaire. First ask them to match the sentences to the questions.

When they are finished, ask them to speculate what the words in bold mean. They can do this in pairs. Then ask them to match them to their definitions on the second page of the handout. Check the answers:

Answers: g / a / h / c,f / e / d / d / b
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Anchor Point:5Stage four

Students can now try to rewrite the questionnaire using the phrasal verbs they have just learnt. A sample answer is below. When they have finished, get them to switch partners and interview their new partner with the rewritten questions. Ask them to incorporate the new language they have learned in their answers as well.

  1. Are you a secretive person? Do you keep a lot of secrets to yourself?
  2. If you had a secret, which of the following people would you confide in? Imagine that the secret was not directly connected to them.
  3. Now imagine that the secret involved WAS connected to them. Who would you let in on the secret?
  4. Do people confide in you?
  5. Are you someone people trust with their secrets?
  6. Have you ever let out a secret?
  7. Think of the place where you study or work. Do secrets get around?
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Anchor Point:6Grammar of phrasal verbs

Some phrasal verbs must always be separated. That is, the object must come between the verb and the particle. In this lesson, fill in, keep to yourself and keep from are examples of this kind of phrasal verb:

He filled me in on the details. NOT He filled in me on the secrets.
Don’t keep the information to yourself. NOT Don’t keep to yourself the information.
We never keep secrets from each other. NOT We never keep from secrets from each other.
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Anchor Point:7Stage five


Draw students’ attention to the tips for learning and understanding phrasal verbs in the yellow box. If your students have access to the Internet, they can also do the online exercise using these phrasal verbs.Anchor Point:bottom

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