Teaching phrasal verbs by narrative chaining using spidergrams

N. Pratheeba, Kamaraj College of Engineering and Technology

Quick guide

  • Key words: Phrasal verbs, collocational competence, spidergrams, narrative skills
  • Learner English level: Intermediate and advanced
  • Learner maturity: High school and college
  • Preparation time: 45 minutes
  • Activity time: 60 minutes
  • Materials: Spidergram charts, timer, two lots boxes/envelopes (one for story starter prompts and one for detective character names)

Rote memorization of phrasal verbs is a tedious task for any ESL learner. Most often, learners try to memorize the meanings of phrasal verbs from a list without any specific aid. Narrative chaining using spidergrams is an active rehearsal strategy for learning commonly used phrasal verbs. Students practice the art of narration as well as the proper usage of phrasal verbs easily with the help of spidergrams. It is an excellent strategy that helps learners to achieve automaticity in collocation of phrasal verbs. The story linkage also helps in the development of their narration skills. 

Spidergrams are diagrams in the shape of a spider (see appendix A) the center square of the spidergram is meant for the verb part of the particular target phrasal verb. The first tier of the spider’s leg is meant for the preposition that completes the given phrasal verb. The second tier of the spider’s leg is meant for the words that are often used with that particular phrasal verb, i.e., collocations. 


Step 1: Select a series of phrasal verbs that you think will be useful in day-to-day life but may be new to students.

Step 2: Prepare spidergrams (charts) for the chosen phrasal verbs along with the substitute words. See appendix A for an example.

Step 3: Prepare a means of displaying these spidergrams to the entire class. 

Step 4: Prepare a box or envelope containing the story starter prompts given in appendix B.

Step 5: Prepare a box or envelope containing the names of various famous detective characters like Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason, Thomas Linley, Sam Spade, Peter Wimsey, Sherlock Holmes, etc.


Step 1: Divide the entire class to form groups of four.

Step 2: Number the participants in each group from 1 to 4.

Step 3: Ask the groups to nominate a “script recorder”, a “stage narrator” and a “lot picker” for their group.

Step 4: Ask the lot picker of each group to select a lot each from the prompts box and the detective box.

Step 5: Set the timer for 20 minutes.

Step 6: Ask participant No.1 of each group to start a detective story using their chosen character and prompt. Instruct the students to use as many phrasal verbs as possible along with their collocation as displayed in the spidergrams in their narrative, so as to win the “Galaxy of Phrasal Verbs” award. A maximum of two sentences can be spoken by any participant at a single stretch. 

Step 7: Ask participant No.2 to continue the story.

An example of a story using the prompt “He was not able to decipher the message.” might be:

Participant No.1: Sherlock Holmes wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. But little did he know that he was soon to go on an exciting adventure. 

Participant No.2: He was feeling tired. He wanted to sit back and chill out for a bit. 

Participant No.3: Suddenly he heard a thundering sound. When he peered out of the screen in his living room, he saw a white car. 

Participant No.4: The car was moving up the avenue. It was very stormy outside.

Step 10: Ask the script recorder of each group to write down the story as it is told.

Step 11: Stop the activity after twenty minutes.

Step 12: Ask the narrator of each group to come to the stage and narrate their created story using proper intonation to create an eerie atmosphere.

Step 13: Award the “Galaxy of Phrasal Verbs” award to the group that has recorded the maximum number of phrasal verbs in their story.


This activity enables the students to learn collocations easily and it hones their collocational competence. In addition, the story woven around the activities of their chosen detective characters helps to enrich their narrative skills. 


The appendices are available below.