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Teaching Phrasal Verbs my Means of Constructing Texts

By Andrzej Cirocki

This article is meant to explain the nature of constructing texts, which may be perceived as forming oral or written utterances as the result of students willingness and need to build them so as to express their opinions on certain themes.

The main problem which arises while teaching authentic text construction is based on the fact how to encourage our students to create something orally or in writing on a particular topic in the form of an authentic text. This is a challenging method and is highly associated with higher mental processes which are indispensable while learning and first of all in the creativity sphere. It is them that impose the authentic character of the texts which are created to present somebody's views on a particular topic.

To be able to deal with the problem of constructing authentic texts: first, we should discriminate between activities which are intended to assure that students have learnt what has been required from them so far; and activities whose chief aim is students' spontaneous work. The former activities are forthrightly associated with the syntagmatic presentation of grammar rules and lexical items plus explanations. The activities are mostly based on guided translations from e.g. Polish into the target language. Exercises of this type aim at preparing students to genuine text construction. The latter activities, however, force students to make use of the linguistic knowledge students have acquired during explanation period. The teacher's role in the process of formulating authentic texts is to minimize the distance between explanation period and an authentic meaningful text. The syntagmatic method of the introduction of grammar, lexical items and the bilingual method of explanation lead to an immediate construction of meaningful but not yet genuine texts. Practising formulating such transient texts is considered to be the most efficient way to prepare the student for a genuine expression of his thoughts in texts which display real learning and creativity.

Teachers may activate their students to construct various texts in many ways. For instance, teachers may propose the content of a particular text, that is, they provide the topic, certain grammar structures and vocabulary items to be used in a particular text. These are so-called predictable texts as the teacher knows exactly what his students intend to say or write. However, such instances are not included in the sphere of fully authentic texts as they are deprived of spontaneity. For instance, teachers may ask their students to write the story of Cinderella providing them with some helpful phrases like (a predictable text):

- Cinderella's mother dies. Her father decides to marry again.
- Her stepmother is cruel and her stepsisters are ugly and horrible.
- Everyone is invited to attend a ball at the palace.
- Cinderella can't go to the ball. She has nothing to wear.
- Her fairy godmother appears and arranges for her to go to the ball.
- She dances with the prince. He falls in love with her.
- The shoe fits Cinderella. She marries the prince.

Students are to begin the story Once upon a time.......and write it in the Simple Past tense and end the story with ...........and they lived happily ever after. There is one more condition, namely, there is a list of Phrasal Verbs to be involved in the composition including:

to make up one 's mind; to dress up; to tidy up; to clean up; to wear out; to get into something

(Workman : Phrasal Verbs and Idioms)

Although it is not a fully spontaneous exercise, it is worth recommending as students have an opportunity to practise language through writing. By that is meant that students can make a practice of Phrasal Verbs and the Simple Past tense. Due to such exercises, teachers become certain whether newly worked out grammar structures and Phrasal Verbs are well stored in students' memory. Therefore, well-written compositions are the reflection of their knowledge obtained hitherto and their ability to present events which form the whole story. In practice the exercise may have the following form:

Once upon a time there lived a girl called Cinderella. She had only a father because her mother died when she was a very little girl. After a short period of time Cinderella's father made up his mind. He decided to marry again. He married a cruel woman with two horrible and ugly daughters. Not very long after the wedding the stepmother and her two daughters started to treat Cinderella very badly. The poor girl had to do all the housework. She tidied everything up every morning and cleaned up every room in the big house. Her clothes wore out very quickly and were torn and dirty. And so it came, that the stepmother received a letter from the royal palace which invited everybody to the ball. When the stepsisters got to know about this they started to discuss what to wear to the ball. They couldn't decide which dress to wear so Cinderella had to help them choose. When they dressed up and put on their coats, they hurried to the ball not waiting for Cinderella. Unfortunately, the poor girl had nothing to wear but…

The spontaneous texts, as the name suggests, are impossible to be predicted by the teacher, hence to be able to achieve truly genuine texts teachers must not inflict any grammar points or vocabulary structures to be used in them. Therefore, the role of the teacher is restricted to suggesting an interesting topic of the text if he wishes to receive some spontaneous pieces of writing.

Teaching how to construct genuine texts aims at making students susceptible to using more sophisticated language, its affluence in metaphorical expressions and its complexities. Moreover, we aim at teaching students' stylistic and rhetorical problems of the foreign language which are essential as far as creative writing is concerned (Wenzel:1994 ). Thus making students construct their own texts helps us to evaluate how much knowledge of English our students have had and make it possible for them to scrutinize their own abilities to learn and create. Furthermore, through creating spontaneous texts they acquire more knowledge about the language as such and perceive it as a great gift owing to which communication is possible.

The method of creating texts is highly associated with the syntagmatic presentation of grammar as we deal with a few grammar points and their connections within a given text. The syntagmatic presentation displays the way the text functions as one whole in a certain situation. It is also associated with grammar and vocabulary and operates as a starting point to text creation process in which students have an opportunity to see the collocation between particular items and can see what kind of function particular items play in the text.

If we aim at teaching a few Phrasal Verbs to our students, we should present them in many different real contexts so as to enable them to deduce their exact meaning and to see whether they are transitive or intransitive, separable or inseparable. All these items can be noticed by the students if Phrasal Verbs are presented in authentic contexts. For instance, we may ask our students to read a text entitled 'Hotel Blaze Escape Drama' in which a few Phrasal Verbs can be spotted.

HOTEL BLAZE ESCAPE DRAMA

At present it is not known how the fire started. It seems the fire, broke out in the early hours of the morning. The fire alarm went off at around 2.00 a.m. It is thought it was set off by smoke coming from one of the bedrooms on the first floor. The fire spread quickly from the first floor to the second floor. The fire brigade were called in immediately and fire fighters were on the scene within 15 minutes, but by this time the hotel was already in flames. They fought the blaze and managed to get it under control, though it took them to hours to put the fire out.

(Workman : Phrasal Verbs and Idioms)

While reading 'Hotel Blaze Escape Drama' students get to know new Phrasal Verbs whose meaning and function are explained in the context. Thus, they can be learnt in a natural way. The text constitutes a kind of a background for the new Phrasal Verbs and has been formed to serve as a context, through which new Phrasal Verbs can be presented and explained. However, this is not a genuinely authentic context. Having read such a text, the meaning of these Phrasal Verbs should be clear. If it is not, we should provide students with other contexts so that they could guess the meaning, which makes students remember new Phrasal Verbs much better. Not until then, could they make use of Phrasal Verbs in their own texts.

To assure oneself that students understand the meaning of new Phrasal Verbs, teachers can move to the next stage, that is, fixing stage where the establishing of knowledge on Phrasal Verbs takes place. Having deduced meanings of Phrasal Verbs from authentic contexts, it is time to apply such types of exercises so that they could enable students to memorise them much better and also present them in new contexts. These exercises have nothing to do with creativity they are very useful , though. Before students begin constructing their own texts, they first have to work on simple exercises in order to fix new material. Afterwards, they may make use of it in their own texts. For instance, in this exercise students are asked to complete sentences with the appropriate Phrasal Verbs in their correct form.

catch sb out; fill sth in; cut sth out; take up sth

1. If you want to lose weight , ___ potatoes, bread, and sweet things for a week.
2. The oral exam was difficult. The examiner tried to ___ (me) by asking some tricky questions.
3. My brother has___ karate. He trains three times a week.
4. Here are the visa application forms. You have to ___ (them) and return them to the consulate.

(Seidl : Exercises on Phrasal Verbs)

Apart from practising reading comprehension they also practise grammar, that is, linguistic competence. Many teachers disapprove of such exercises, however, they do help to fix newly encountered Phrasal Verbs. Moreover, they are usually applied by students preparing for various exams. Such exercises allow to introduce many Phrasal Verbs and practise them in certain contexts.

Another exercise worth recommending in fixing stage is a close test. Working on such exercises is associated with two aims, by which is meant, communicative and linguistic. The former pertains to reading comprehension as students must comprehend a particular text in order to be able to insert certain expressions, whereas the latter one concerns linguistic correctness which means that while inserting Phrasal Verbs students must beware verb forms, tenses and many other linguistic aspects.

A very frequently applied technique in the Text Creativity Method is translation whose main aim is to educate 'conscious bilinguals'. The translations pertain either to original literary works or translations of the students' own creative works. The translations can be performed in both directions, by which is meant, from Polish into English and vice versa. In this type of exercise teachers have a great possibility to check the students' general knowledge of English plus their vocabulary. But before students start translating sentences, the teacher presents new Phrasal Verbs in real contexts so that the students could deduce their meaning. Having become acquainted with new Phrasal Verbs, the teacher asks students to make use of them while constructing new texts as he wants to be certain as to whether students understand the new Phrasal Verbs and are able to use them correctly.

Another exercise worth recommending is based on providing students with a particular topic and associating it with Phrasal Verbs. For instance; teachers may ask their students to write a letter to their friends talking about their problems with studying. While writing such a letter students have a possibility to make use of Phrasal Verbs of the following type: get down to, keep on with, take down, fall behind, put off, get through, catch up with and many others. In practice it may look like this:

Dear Paul,
I have problems with my studies at school I find it difficult to get down to work in the afternoons and I can't concentrate on anything right now. I spend most of my time listening to CDs or watching Tv instead of doing my homework. The other students in my class are much better than I am and I find it hard to keep up with them. I can't take down the important things my teacher says because I write very slowly. He has told me that I'm falling behind with my lessons. I'm not good at…


In order to make our students write fully authentic texts, the role of the teacher is confined to proposing an interesting topic. Nevertheless, teachers may also ask their students to make use of as many Phrasal Verbs as possible in their compositions. The main asset of such exercises is the fact that students write about things they are fond of and are really interested in. This enables students to apply long term memory, due to which they will be able to remember certain things for ever and make use of them in various speeches or essays.

All the exercises presented above are of great help and importance in creating texts. Obviously, not all of them are fully creative but teachers must realise that the fixing stage, that is, a period of preparing our students for genuine text construction, must consist of various exercises (fill-ins, close tests) whose aim is to systemize students' knowledge on a particular topic. Once it is established, teachers can ask their students to construct their own texts. But first they provide students with interesting topics to write about.


About the author
Andrzej CirockiAndrzej Cirocki has been a teacher of English for 6 years now. He teaches English to students of H. Derdowski Secondary School at Kartuzy. Moreover, he gives lectures on English grammar to teacher trainees from PWSH in Gdynia, Poland.

Mr Cirocki, in spite of being a very young teacher, has proved to have a deep passion for teaching English. He is the author of the curriculum for the linguistic class and presides over all the linguists at H. Derdowski School at Kartuzy.

Despite quite a short pedagogical practice, Mr Cirocki has staged three plays in English / 'Cinderella', 'Antigone', 'Macbeth' / and has attended a lot of methodological workshops. Lately Mr Cirocki has been honoured with a certificate of completing An Advanced Teacher Training Course within the all-Polish INSETT project under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, The British Council and The Advanced Teacher Training Centre.

 

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