ESL Phrasal Verbs: List & Games

Instructor: Elizabeth Hemmons

Beth has taught early childhood education, including students with special needs, for the past 11 years. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.

Phrasal verbs can be tricky for ESL students. In this lesson, we will look at many examples of phrasal verbs and some activities and exercises for teaching and reinforcing them.

Phrasal Verbs for ESL Students

Imagine spending hours memorizing and learning all of the verbs in the English language and their verb tenses. This could take years. Then you realize that some of these verbs mean different things when paired with other words. How confusing! This is what it is like for English as a Second Language (ESL) students learning phrasal verbs. Phrasal verbs are tricky verbs that can mean different things when paired with different prepositions. Take a look at this list of some phrasal verbs that ESL students should learn.

  • Ask out: invite on a date
  • Ask around: ask different people the same question
  • Add up: seem to be true or make sense
  • Back up: move backward; confirm information
  • Blow up: explode; fill with air
  • Break down: get upset; stop working
  • Break in: intrude
  • Break up: end a relationship; lose communication
  • Break out: escape
  • Call on: visit; ask for an answer
  • Call off: cancel
  • Catch up: have a conversation; move to get to something
  • Cut off: get in front of someone; stop providing; remove something
  • Fall apart: break into pieces
  • Find out: discover
  • Get along: leave; be friendly
  • Get over: stop feeling sad; overcome; become healthy again
  • Give up: stop trying
  • Hold on: grasp tightly; not give up
  • Look forward to: to be excited about something in the future
  • Make out: write (a check); kiss; hear someone
  • Put down: place something somewhere; write something; criticize
  • Take after: resemble a family member
  • Turn up: make something louder; arrive; become evident
  • Work out: exercise; solve; be successful

Phrasal Verb Games and Activities

Now consider a few games and activities you can use to help ESL students practice these and other phrasal verbs.

Act It Out

A great way to practice phrasal verbs is to use pantomime. Split your students up into groups and have each group create a small skit, without any sounds or words, which demonstrates a phrasal verb. Each team can then present their skits to each other and see if other teams can guess them. For example, a group can pantomime sitting in a bumpy car ride to describe the phrasal verb, 'hold on'.

Pick a Card

To practice what certain phrasal verbs mean, write some examples on note cards and put them in a pile. Ask a student to pick a card, read it, and describe its meaning. The student can then ask a classmate to use the phrasal verb in a sentence.

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