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Demystifying the ‘horrible phrasals’: a closer look
at learner problems and the ways of approaching
teaching multi-word verbs
by Małgorzata Bryndal
- 6

Lesson plan

Preliminary information

Level: Intermediate

Main aims:    

  • To introduce the SS to 6 MWVs related to the theme of work (stage 2).
  • To sensitise the SS to the form, syntactic behaviour, meaning and use of MWVs (stages 3 & 4).
  • To provide the SS with controlled written practice and freer speaking practice to activate personal engagement with the targeted MWVs (stage 4).

Sub aims:

  • To provide comprehensible input (stage 2).
  • To raise SS’ awareness of possible collocates of the presented MWVs (stage 4).
  • To introduce SS’ to one possible way of storing new vocabulary (stage 4)
  • To foster learner autonomy and encourage the SS to use a monolingual dictionary (stage 4 especially, but peer teaching and correcting encouraged throughout the whole lesson).

Class profile

There are 5 female students in the group: S, M, J, MN and N. Their ages range from early to mid 20s. They all have arrived in the UK only recently and are still trying to settle in the local community. Their first language is Urdu; some of the learners also speak Punjabi and Arabic. It is the first ESOL course they embarked on since they moved to the UK. They have been studying together since April and show a lot of enthusiasm, commitment and motivation. They arrive on time, are eager to learn and leave the class reluctantly. We meet twice a week on Tuesdays (9.30 – 12.00) and Thursdays (13.00- 15.00). The course has been planned in response to the learners’ requirements stated in the needs analysis carried out during the first session, and will be supported with a variety of materials. It has been scheduled to run for 10 weeks, but will most likely restart after summer holidays.

The students are all housewives at the moment but are actively looking for employment. They want to improve their English skills to have better job prospects, communicate with family and people in the community and to get a qualification in English (ESOL Entry 3). They have a very positive attitude towards the English language, and although they consider it to be a rather difficult language they all stated they liked it, and using English gives them a lot of satisfaction.

The learners have been educated in Pakistan, however to a different level: S, M and N completed Master’s degrees, whereas J and MN graduated high school. Except for this English class, M and N are attending an IT course, and other ladies are thinking of enrolling on a few vocational courses to pursue their different hobbies.

There is some diversity in their English language abilities. J, is the weakest student in the group and needs to put a lot of work in to bring her English competence (which is now at higher-elementary level across all the skills), to the level of the other students in the group. She does however put a lot of effort to keep up with other learners, who in turn are very encouraging and supportive of her. S comes across as a shy learner, who is, nevertheless, quite able, understands a lot and can express her opinions on any subject when prompted by the teacher. N, M and MN are quite confident and fluent though lack accuracy and range of lexis and grammar. If allowed, M, as the most able student in the class, tends to dominate the group. All the students express the need to focus their learning on speaking, with particular emphasis on pronunciation, vocabulary development and grammar accuracy.

In terms of their reading and writing skills, J needs the most help; other learners can cope with different text types with medium teacher support. They are keen to work with authentic materials and are not deterred by unknown lexis. We have started working on developing their autonomy and introduced monolingual dictionary into the repertoire of their learning aids.

They are a very lively group, with a good sense of humour and inner dynamics. Using Nunan’s terminology (Nunan 1995), they could be described as ‘communicative’, i.e. they like to learn by listening to native speakers, talking to friends in English and watching TV in English, using English out of class, learning words by hearing them and learning by conversation. The learning style questionnaire I carried out at the beginning of the course revealed that they are fairly balanced in their visual and auditory learning preferences, and none of them is particularly fond of kinaesthetic type activities. They enjoy learning in small groups and appreciate homework.

Timetable fit

In the previous lessons the students were discussing advantages and disadvantages of different types of jobs and different ways of looking for employment. In the observed lesson the students will be introduced to a set of MWVs also related to the topic of employment. This lesson will be followed by a session focused on developing speaking skills through role play activities in the context of work interview, which will give the SS an opportunity to recycle the MWVs introduced in the observed lesson.


  • The students will be interested in the topic of work as it is relevant to their current personal situations and they will be able to relate to it.
  • They should be familiar with s ome basic vocabulary related to the lexical field of work and this should help them with deducing meaning of new lexical items they encounter in the lesson.
  • They should be able to recognise the sound of northern English accents, as they all live in Lancashire, and so the recordings used in the lesson will feel ‘familiar’ to them.

Anticipated problems and solutions

Problem: The SS might find the listening too difficult.
Solution:  I will play the audio more times if necessary so as to make sure that the SS have a good comprehension of the recording. Also, ex. 2 on handouts, with fragments of listening script crucial for the comprehension and targeted MWVs, is partly designed to facilitate understanding and support weaker SS in their listening.

Problem: The SS may encounter other unknown vocabulary.
Solution: I will ask the other students to help their peers, failing that I will provide a quick contextualised definition or a synonym to lead the SS to the meaning.

Problem: Timing: the lesson is student-centred and during the hypothesising stage the activities may take longer than anticipated leaving too little time for the experimenting stage, especially tasks 6 and 7.
Solution: Focus on tasks 4 and 5 in the experimenting stage (controlled practice and freer speaking practice of MWVs), leaving tasks 6 and 7 (collocations) as part of SS’ homework.

Problem: There is an odd number of students and setting pair activities leaves one student out.
Solution: Teacher creates a group of 3 students who work through task 5 in a circular manner: Student A interviews/gathers information about Student B who interviews Student C, who in turn interviews Student A and closes the communication circle.

Materials and teaching aids:
- CD with the listening - transcripts in the materials
- CD player
- board, coloured pens
- handouts - see materials
- monolingual dictionaries

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