Global Approach To Phrasal Verbs – Lesson Planning

phrasal verbs

Global Approach To Phrasal Verbs

Firstly, let me explain the thinking behind the Global Approach (to phrasal verbs) (GA). Over the last forty years, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with conventional lesson planning. Although it is essential to be prepared for your students, a lesson plan can become a strait jacket. However well we may know our participants, we cannot anticipate in detail what they need; nor, indeed, can they. Ideally, learning is a process of discovery and creation as opposed to input and consumption. As championed by Vicki Hollett, I prefer to put my energy into the lesson itself, and retrospective feedback and reinforcement, rather than preparation. To me, a lesson plan is more of an open framework than a recipe.

Conventional teaching deconstructs; i.e. we isolate specific features that we wish to present, practise, and have our students ‘produce’. However, 80% of our brain cells, known as ‘interneurons’, are designed to detect pattern and make meaning. Essentially, our brains can synthesize global input, so while we need to be clear in introducing and concluding a lesson, we can allow it to flow fairly liberally, taking advantage of any opportunities that arise within it. This is ‘Dogme’, for which Frank Ferendo, Ph.D outlined the following principles, (summarized by me).

  • The best way to learn to communicate is to communicate
  • Language skills emerge from extensive exposure and use, not from a teacher or textbook
  • Conversation-driven classes are therefore the optimal way to teach English
  • The teacher supports, shapes, manages and guides production, helping students to notice new vocabulary, grammatical points, and pronunciation issues that arise
  • Lessons focus on students’ needs and interests; they can suggest their own topicsEverything in class is a language opportunity

This ideally requires some kind of framework in which to locate and record such discoveries. For this reason I have created a comprehensive set of visual and kinesthetic tools and frameworks (the GA) to enable students to understand English as a generative set of systems:

Rather than a conventional lesson plan, I am therefore offering you a small sample of ‘catalysts’ which I have found to provide rich, exploitable seams of language. They can be used from lower intermediate to advanced levels.


Multi-functional words

  • Give your students the following words (taken from a list of 350 selected alphabetically from the first 1000 words in English).
  • Ask them to try to group them: act, bank, call, dream, edge, face, group, hold, land, make, name, oil, picture, question, root, ship, track, value, winter. They could start working individually or go straight into pairs or small groups, ending in a plenary.
  • It will soon become clear that these words can all be both nouns and verbs. Students are always amazed to discover how flexible English vocabulary is.
  • Elicit and write up example sentences to illustrate their meanings and uses.
  • Encourage students to look for, and even create, further words.
  • This can lead to dictionary work, noticing that sometimes the syllable stress can change, depending on the function; e.g. record/ record, desert/desert, project/project.


Headache and Aspirin

(an idea inspired by Tessa Woodward)

This activity works well in groups of 3.

  • Each participant thinks of a real problem (‘headache’) from their own experience, that they would be happy to share with the group, with a view to finding some kind of solution (‘aspirin’). It can be work-related or general.
  • No 1 starts and No 2 tries to offer a solution. No 3 observes and records the process. (In groups of 4, Nos 2 and 3 try to offer solutions).
  • Depending on the time available, you can start by brainstorming the best strategy; e.g. ascertain the facts, establish the background, clarify, suggest and advise, recommend and conclude.
  • You could pre-teach some of the language they might need, but I find it better to just observe and identify any mistakes or gaps and make a note of them.
  • At the end of the activity you will find that meaningful communication has taken place and has provided you with a context for follow-up lessons. Typical findings include the need for the correct formulation of: direct questions, indirect questions, checking statements, ‘echoing’ statements, comments, agreements, objections, acceptances, suggestions for alternatives, additions, expressions of sympathy, recommendations, and imperatives – drawn from their own examples. This activity can last more than one session by the time each person has had a turn and everybody has had an opportunity to feed back on the experience.



(an idea from Mark Powell)

This can be adapted for general or Business English.

  • Each participant draws 4 or 5 small boxes.
  • In each box they write the initials of people they are close to, or people they work with.
  • Working in pairs, small or even larger groups, they each take a turn talking about the people in their boxes.
  • To turn this into a focused listening exercise, the listeners can record and feed back what is said.
  • Other topics for the boxes can include: important dates in your life/work diary; important years in your life/career development; places important now/ in the past/in the future, privately or for work; highlights of your life/achievements at work; personal items that are important to you/that you keep on your desk/ that you take with you when you travel on business. As always, your role as teacher/facilitator is to observe, record and teach or reformulate any necessary language.


Ask me my questions

(an idea from David Heitler)

  • Students imagine they have an opposite number whose life/work/company is very similar to their own. They write down the questions they would like to ask that person.
  • You quickly check that they have formulated their questions correctly.
  • They exchange their questions with another participant – who asks them their own questions!
  • You observe, correct and reformulate …

This article originally appeared in ELTAS News earlier this year. It is reposted with Rita Baker’s kind permission.

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