Review: Work It Out with Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verb resource books you’ve used… GO!

Okay, so there was a good one on the bookshelf at LTC called ‘Illustrated Phrasal Verbs’. Me and Sketch used it so often that the student’s book fell apart (only one copy – a conference freebie), then we had to photocopy pages from the teacher’s book and tipex out the answers to make gap-fills. When I think back, the illustrations were sometimes ambiguous, and we were all too often test-teach-testing it. Not always the most effective.

Apart from that, well… There was ‘Test Your Phrasal Verbs’ (so so) and Phrasal Verbs in Use. Although more of a self-study resource, its concise explanations were great for teachers too. All controlled practice though, not a classroom resource really. Well, sparingly.

Here’s a welcome addition to my (admittedly limited) phrasal verb teaching toolkit – Work It Out with Phrasal Verbs, from Prosperity Education. It’s a neat teaching resource (aimed at B2-C1 level students) written by Billie Jago and Monica Ruda-Peachey.

*Get on with it, Pete…* Overview

The resource is aimed at both new and experienced teachers, and focuses on presenting and practising phrasal verbs in clear topic-based contexts (see promo here). Advice, Family, Holidays, Crime, Business, etc… the same approach taken by McCarthy and O’Dell in Phrasal Verbs in Use, only this is a comprehensive teaching resource rather than a self-study book. At just under 100 pages, you might question my use of ‘comprehensive’, but you know how it is these days; the book is mainly the teacher notes, but it’s accompanied by downloadable worksheets, presentations, supps, etc. The book as a package has a lot to it, that’s for sure.

The intro is brief. It explains that the resource aims to introduce phrasal verbs in contexts that tie in with those found in standard coursebooks (so it’s a good supp in itself). Next up there’s a rules overview of phrasal verbs, followed by 10 ‘Work outs’ – i.e. topic-based lessons with downloadable resources. The work outs include detailed procedural information, estimated timing, suggestions for alternative activities if tech is available, extension tasks for fast finishers, and more.

What I like about it

The activities/tasks across lessons are really varied, yet the workout formats are similar (intro questions, then roughly PPP). This is a good balance for me – there’s familiarity for the learners but clever tweaks to make things seem fresh. The authors mention that this could be a supp, or the lessons could be delivered sequentially. With the latter approach in mind, the range of activities is well-considered.

The contexts are clear and as a result the target language rarely feels contrived. The authors are right – the contexts may be general enough to work alongside other coursebook resources.

Speaking of contexts, the authors chose to use text-based presentations for some of these. They’ve been clever in the way they’ve done this to avoid target language trapping. The only exception might be the business-related lesson, where the amount of phrasal verbs used adds a feel of informality.

The digital alternatives are a nice addition and of course that’s timely from the authors/publisher. The additional resources have been thought through to make the book work for online/face-to-face learning.

The worksheets accompanying the work outs are often self-explanatory, meaning a teacher could build their own lesson around the content quite easily. I like how the usability (word?!) of the worksheets hasn’t been compromised to suit a prescribed lesson. Nice.

Teacher voice. I do love it when a resource sounds like it’s written by teachers. Procedures are a dead giveaway for this, as real teachers love adding ‘stick something on the students’ activities. Seriously, look:

The extra practice activities are very useful. Again, they’re varied, and the preempt the need for more practice – this is difficult language and the more practice/contextual examples the better! The addition of role plays for some lessons to try and prompt some freer use of that target language is great.

There have also been some good design decisions made. The structure and layout is clear and well signposted, and small choices like the use of vector images means the resource won’t date quickly! I hate those stock images which expose the age of a resource… well avoided.

Things that could improve

With all the resources and the clear procedural info, teachers are well-supported. However, less-experienced teachers would benefit from a more detailed overview of phrasal verb ‘rules’. The rules provided are too general and more clarity is needed regarding metalanguage. The first four units of McCarthy/O’Dell (Phrasal Verbs in Use) are a great primer for the rest of their content – I think more orientation could be added to this resource before the work outs.

The result of that lack of clarity is the occasional slip language-wise. While McCarthy/O’Dell distinguish between phrasal verbs and phrasal adjectives, highlighting how they are related, this resource doesn’t. You find the occasional example, such as in the extra practice resources, where the target language is in the wrong form:

You shouldn’t eat gone off food

Very occasionally, the resources need more scaffolding/support. Despite the level, tasks can be cognitively demanding in places (if you get a copy, see Work Out 4, Ex 1 for an example). In Work Out 8, there are 17 business idioms introduced in one lesson – pretty brutal! And as I said, that might not fit the level of formality needed.

Apart from the rules bit, I’d say minor stuff really.

Overall

This book could work well as both a supplementary and standalone resource. The work outs are well staged, detailed, full of variety, and provide a good level of challenge for students at this level. The lessons themselves aren’t short of teacher support, although some tweaks could be made to help teachers enhance their subject knowledge (more detail on phrasal verb rules, pronunciation guidance). However, the beauty of an ebook is that this can be done straight away, so my points probably won’t age well.

£19.99… That’s two quid a lesson. Considering the whole package I’d say that’s fair enough as a resource for the whole staffroom.

Rating: 4.5/5

4 comments

  1. Thanks for the mention Pete and I do indeed remember ‘Illustrated Phrasal Verbs’. It was a great resource. Love this book review mate and keep up with the blogging. Great to see your website is doing well.

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  2. According to your review, the only criterion used to select the phrasal verbs included in this book are “those found in standard coursebooks”. You don’t elaborate. You don’t give us enough examples of the phrasal verbs included, or tell us how the authors justify the coursebooks’ selection.

    You don’t tell us how the book deals with the phrasal verbs selected. How does the book suggest that teachers present the different meanings of the phrasal verbs? Do they use corpora to guide them in the most common uses, or do they start with the literal meaning and then branch out, or what?

    You don’t tell us how the book tackles the problem of the learnability of phrasal verbs. Do the authors simply assume (as you seem to do) that if you present students with one particular meaning of a phrasal verb in context and then practice it that students will learn it? After that, do the authors suggest that students will be ready to learn another one in the same way? And do the authors thus claim that if teachers use their book their students will learn a significant proportion of the phrasal verbs found in the English language and their myriad meanings? If so, do they cite any of the literature on how people learn a second language to support this claim?

    Phrasal verbs are a notoriously difficult aspect of the English language. Your review of this book gives us little information about the book’s contents, and little indication of whether or not it is likely to be a good tool for teachers, even if those teachers assume that a PPP approach to ELT is an efficacious one.

    Here’s one example of what I think is a more measured approach:
    The most-common phrasal verbs with their key meanings for spoken and academic written English: A corpus analysis
    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1362168818798384

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    1. It’s Geoff Jordan!
      Sorry – couldn’t work out on my phone how to italicize your bit then my comment underneath. But tried to respond:

      According to your review, the only criterion used to select the phrasal verbs included in this book are “those found in standard coursebooks”. You don’t elaborate.

      That’s true. Unlike books like Phrasal Verbs in Use, the selection of these phrasal verbs was not based on a corpus. I mentioned some of the topics although I did leave it to the imagination which PVs were included, which isnt that helpful. Take a look at the sample unit first, that will have some ideas. The book includes a standard reference for each unit which lists the PVs and definitions – perhaps request this from the publisher if interested?

      You don’t give us enough examples of the phrasal verbs included, or tell us how the authors justify the coursebooks’ selection.

      True, and see above. I have mentioned that the authors justify these based on their relevance to a specific topic. However, that may not be the most pedagogically sound of evidence-informed approach. Your link will be useful in developing my understanding of this.

      You don’t tell us how the book deals with the phrasal verbs selected. How does the book suggest that teachers present the different meanings of the phrasal verbs? Do they use corpora to guide them in the most common uses, or do they start with the literal meaning and then branch out, or what?

      As the topic or theme is central, the meaning introduced is singular and focused on that particular context. I’d say introducing each PV with one meaning in its clear context is better than introducing multiple meanings which may not suit the context. Although there may be other approaches and research may refute that?
      The authors recommend an approach of introducing phrasal verbs whereby they are introduced in context and learners guess the meaning – sometimes from choices given, sometimes guessing when the phrase is embedded in an intro question to the topic, sometimes giving the phrase and asking which words in a context-based sentence might be replaced with that phrase, etc. many different ways this is done.
      The ‘starting with literal meaning’ that you mention. Interesting one. Do you think that would lead to confusion?

      You don’t tell us how the book tackles the problem of the learnability of phrasal verbs.
      Do the authors simply assume (as you seem to do) that if you present students with one particular meaning of a phrasal verb in context and then practice it that students will learn it? After that, do the authors suggest that students will be ready to learn another one in the same way? And do the authors thus claim that if teachers use their book their students will learn a significant proportion of the phrasal verbs found in the English language and their myriad meanings?

      You’ve turned this towards your critique of PPP I think and I’d agree with you regarding the learnability of items. One context will certainly not be enough in many cases for phrasal verbs and is always likely to be tough for opaque language such as this. I’ve mentioned before about conscious learning as a compensation strategy and how it can sensitize learners to these phrases, although greater exposure in natural settings and some analysis of this would be preferable. The authors add multiple practice stages with contextual examples but this will never match the rich amount of data you can gather from corpora.
      Regarding PPP, you’re criticism of this approach for me often focuses on the end-goal of acquisition and mastery, and ignores the numerous steps towards that goal and how explicit teaching might support that. The ‘do the authors assume’ part is a bit leading. They make no claims regarding that but then none on the contrary, so maybe they do believe their resource is magic! Do I personally assume that one PPP lesson leads to mastery? Geoff…

      If so, do they cite any of the literature on how people learn a second language to support this claim? Phrasal verbs are a notoriously difficult aspect of the English language.

      Actually no, they could certainly include some literature to underpin their approach. This is more a printable resource for classroom use as mentioned, but there certainly could be more done to ground the approach in research, even if the general framework used in lessons (like PPP) is perhaps considered established.

      Your review of this book gives us little information about the book’s contents, and little indication of whether or not it is likely to be a good tool for teachers, even if those teachers assume that a PPP approach to ELT is an efficacious one.

      Apologies, but thanks for reading it. It is an honor and a privilege to have you visit my blog again *bows* 🙂

      Here’s one example of what I think is a more measured approach: The most-common phrasal verbs with their key meanings for spoken and academic written English: A corpus analysis https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1362168818798384

      Thanks, I’ll look at this while I still have a uni log in!

      Liked by 1 person

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