Activity: Household phrasal verbs.

Phrasal verbs are one of the most difficult areas of language teaching. They are used extensively in natural conversation yet their meaning is often opaque. This is an activity for a Pre-Intermediate class using household phrasal verbs, such as ‘turn [the TV] down’ I recently did that seemed to be helpful. The text is from a short conversation between a mother and teenaged son:

  • M: Could you turn down the TV?
  • S: But it’s down already.
  • M: Well, a bit further, please.
  • S: Oh, OK.
  • M: Thank you.

Step 1: Clause

i. Ideational meanings:

First, using a picture dictionary, we identified all the household electrical items, looked at possible Attributes for them (‘The TV is on’) and possible problems (‘The volume is up’). Then, we matched with Processes (‘Turn the TV up/down/on/off’).

ii. Interpersonal meanings

First, we looked at how the imperative Mood may be altered interpersonally through modality to be made either softer (‘Could you turn down the TV, please?’) or stronger (‘Would you turn down the TV’). Then, we looked at some resources for disagreement and turn-taking (‘but’, ‘well’).

iii: Textual meanings

Here, we first looked a bit further into the use of ‘but’. Then, we looked at how stress can alter textual meanings of given-new by comparing ‘It’s DOWN’ with ‘It IS down’.

Step 2: Exchange

First, we looked at a basic move structure with an expected response:

  • M: Turn down the TV, please?
  • S: Ok, sorry.
  • M: Thanks.

Then we compared this to a more complicated structure with an unexpected response:

  • M: Turn down the TV, please?
  • S: But it is down.

We then looked at how this might be resolved.

Step 3: Register

First, we discussed as a group possible other situations where this exchange might take place and the participants in them. The students were then placed into pairs. Their task was then to write (and then perform) a short dialogue based on one situation, taking into account the field, tenor and mode for that situation.


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