Teaching phrasal verbs with word forks

N.Pratheeba, Kamaraj College of Engineering and Technology


Quick guide

  • Key words:Phrasal verbs, collocational competence, word forks
  • Learner English level: Intermediate and advanced
  • Learner Maturity level: High school and college
  • Preparation time:30 minutes
  • Activity time: 45 minutes



Phrasal verbs may be a difficult aspect of the English language for ESL/EFL learners. If the mother tongue of an English learner is devoid of phrasal verbs, they may find it very difficult to incorporate them into their speech or writing and may opt to avoid them altogether.

Vigorous practice is needed if these learners want to be well versed in the usage of phrasal verbs. However, if an ESL/EFL learner gets accustomed to the usage of phrasal verbs, then their collocational competence(ability to use lexical items that usually co-occur in native speakers’ speech)in English will dramatically increase. Teaching phrasal verbs is a challenging task for any English teacher, but word forks come to the rescue.

Word forks are diagrams in the shape of a fork – the stem of the fork is meant for the particular word which ought to be taught to the ESL/EFL learners and the prongs are meant for the various words that go with that particular word (see Appendix A for examples).



Step1:Create word forks for the phrasal verbs you want to teach (refer to Appendix A).

Step2:Make a list of words that can function as substitutes for each of these phrasal verbs (see Appendix B for an example).

Step 3:Create enough copies of the word forks and substitute list for each person in the class.


Step 1:Divide the entire class into groups of three to five members and distribute the word forks and list of substitute words.

Step 2:Encourage students to create a story of their own by describing the funny activities of their favourite cartoon characters.

Step 3:Be sure to have students use as many of the word fork constructions as possible but have them substitute words from the substitution list. Ideally, they should have one in each sentence. An example of a story using the substitute words from Appendix B might be:

Tom cancelled his flight to Antarctica.While returning home, he met Jerry accidentally. Jerry advised him to repeat an aerobics exercise. As Tom was not able to perform it, they planned to arrange a workshop on “How to do Aerobics!”

Step 4:While students are writing, circulate to check for errors and ensure students are using the word fork structures and substitute list vocabulary.

Step 5:When students are finished writing,ask each group to select a leader for their group.

Step 6:Ask the leader of the first group to come to the front and read aloud the first sentence of their story to the entire class.

Step 7:Ask a member from the group that raises their hands first to reframe the aforesaid sentence of the first group using the appropriate phrasal verb. A possible answer to the example given in Step 3 is given below:

Tom called off his flight to Antarctica.While returning home, he ran across Jerry. Jerry advised him to do over an aerobics exercise. As Tom was not able to perform it, they planned to set up a workshop on “How to do Aerobics!”

Step 8:Allot ten points for a correct answer and minus ten points for a wrong answer.

Step 9:Repeat the activity for all the sentences of all the groups.Declare the group that has decoded the maximum number of phrasal verbs the winner.



The above activity can be repeated for prompts like:

"Describe your daily routine the moment you wake up till you go to sleep."

"Describe a visit to a place of historical importance."

"Describe your first day in college.”



The activity will be fun-filled when the students narrate the activities of their favourite cartoon characters. The negative marking makes the students more alert and it motivates them to think on their feet. This activity enables the students to learn collocations meticulously and it indirectly hones their collocational competence.



The appendices are available below