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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
- 7

Lesson rationale

The reason for focusing on MWVs with this particular class is threefold:

  1. at intermediate level these students have reached a plateau in their language study and can become discouraged and lose interest, therefore they need language input that is not only useful and practical to them but also challenging and giving them a real sense of progress; MWVs fit these criteria;
  2. SS have some awareness of MWVs and I would like to build on that and expand this area of lexis with them, especially when SS’ productive knowledge of these items still needs improving, as does their skill of noticing MWVs in spoken and written texts;
  3. SS are currently preparing for the ESOL qualification in speaking and listening and will be assessed on their lexical range. The lesson on MWVs (and subsequent systematic work) will support their speaking and listening skills; good productive and receptive knowledge of MWVs is the distinguishing feature of a good command of English and will make the SS sound more authentic and natural.

The choice of the six phrasal verbs presented and practised in the lesson was primarily dictated by the SS’ learning needs and learning environment. Most of my learners are immigrants who need the sort of vocabulary that helps them with their search for employment and in everyday life. Therefore, the chosen MWVs are linked by the theme of work which they will hopefully find engaging and relevant, therefore easier to learn.

The procedure I intend to follow in the lesson is Lewis’s OHE - Observe-Hypothesise – Experiment (Lewis 1993). Unlike the teacher-centred and over-elaborate PPP - Present – Practice - Produce procedure, OHE allows my students to better exploit their learning strategies and preferences, and also leaves room for the teacher to employ well-proven vocabulary teaching techniques such as: lexical drills, and/or to help the students organise newly acquired lexis.

In the observation stage of the lesson, the MWVs will first be presented in 6 short listening texts. The listening input is then reinforced with written input. This is to support learners who might have problems with the listening material, and also to help SS notice the targeted MWVs. Having two kinds of input is also motivated by the SS’ learning styles and preferences.

In the hypothesising stage SS’ attention is refocused on the form, meaning and use of the MWVs. The learners are encouraged to notice the form and the syntactic behaviour of MWVs, and to work out the meaning of MWVs for themselves through guided discovery-type tasks and with the support of concept questions asked by the teacher. Such approach gives me a chance to find out what learners already know or partially know. It is also cognitively engaging, which, as mentioned in part I, facilitates successful learning and retention.

In the next, experimenting stage, ex. 5 is designed to provide two ways of putting the new words to use, first in the reformulation of the original questionnaire from ex. 1, and in the follow up speaking activity by interviewing each other. Task 4 focuses on meaningful chunking and reinforcing the SS’ awareness of the fact that certain MWVs can be separable. Task 6 provides the SS with a neat record of all the MWVs presented in the lesson and encourages them to find collocations for each of the verbs. Task 7 is an extension of task 6 and offers the SS a chance to personalize the new lexis in their own sentences.

Throughout the lesson the SS are given multiple exposures to the targeted MWVs (both in isolation and contextualised in sentences and short texts), which as I argued in part I is essential for better retention. The SS will be closely monitored at all stages of the lesson, and I will make note of any persistent errors or problems to deal with through feedback or in the future remedial and revision work.

The 6 exponentsI have chosen for the lesson are:

It is impossible to be dogmatic about the number of new lexical items that should be optimally introduced in, say, a 60-minute lesson. Gairns & Redman (1986) suggest an average input of 8 – 12 productive items (the lower figure more suitable for elementary levels, the upper figure for more advanced students). I have decided to present 6 MWV as I did not want to overload the SS, also it would be hard to find more MWV related to the topic of work that are reasonably frequent and useful.

Written form: fill in
Syntactic behaviour : transitive, separable, phrasal verb: fill in sth or fill sth in
past forms: regular;
Meaning presented in the lesson: to write the necessary information on an official document, e.g. form, questionnaire (neutral).
Possible collocations: fill in a form, fill in a questionnaire, fill in a coupon

take on
transitive, separable phrasal verb
a. take sb on or
b. take on sb (in this pattern the object cannot be a pronoun)
past forms: took, taken
to begin to employ someone  (neutral)
take on new employees ; take on workers; take on staff

get on with (get on well with)
transitive, inseparable phrasal-prepositional verb: get on well with sb past forms: got, got (gotten)
to have a good relationship with someone (neutral)
get on well with my boss/ neighbours / siblings / parents, etc.

dress up
intransitive, inseparable, phrasal verb, past forms: regular
to put on formal clothes for a special occasion (neutral)
dress up for a party/dinner/an interview

look for
transitive, inseparable prepositional verb look for sth/sb, past forms: regular
to try to find something or someone (neutral)
look for a job/ work/ solution / a place to work/ ideas

slack off
intransitive, inseparable phrasal verb, past forms: regular
to work slower and with less effort than usual (informal)
slack off at the end of the day
slack off can also function as a transitive verb following the pattern slack off sth, in which case the object cannot be a personal pronoun. In the lesson only the intransitive pattern will be dealt with.

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