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Action Steps

1. The most powerful action step of all is that of being aware that phrasal verbs are everywhere, knowing that students may not understand them, and having the knowledge to intervene if it is appropriate.

2. When you prepare reading assignments for your deaf students, check carefully for the presence of phrasal verbs. Point them out and make sure that students understand them. Do not assume that your students will understand a phrasal verb just because it seems literal to you. The meaning may not be as obvious to your students. For example, the phrasal verb take out in the context of take out the garbage may be perfectly clear to you, while a language learner may see the short adverb out as a preposition and think that something is supposed to come out of the garbage.

3. If you use contact sign language (simultaneous communication) for conversing with deaf students, try to sign phrasal verbs conceptually so that students will see the real meaning and understand your communication. For example, when saying the phrasal verb put up with, use the sign for tolerate.

4. If you prefer to sign the individual components of phrasal verbs, make sure that your deaf students understand the concepts behind them.

5. Always present and discuss phrasal verbs in a context, because any combination may well have several meanings ranging from literal to figurative to idiomatic. It is mostly through context that the meaning will become clear. Compare the following examples and notice how context affects their meanings:

look into the mirror, look into the problem
wait on the corner, wait on the customer
live on the third floor, live on rice and beans
settle on the land, settle on a fair price
run into a house, run into a friend
turn into the wind, turn into a pumpkin
hold up your hand, hold up a bank

6. With some language learners, it is helpful to present semi-idiomatic phrasal verbs in sets where the short adverb or the preposition adds the same general nuance across several verbs. In this way, learners have an opportunity to make inductive generalizations (Side, 1990). Some examples from the Oxford English Dictionary (1979) appear below:

In this set of phrasal verbs, the short adverb up suggests confinement into a smaller spacethrough the action of the verb:

roll up
gather up
snuggle up
fold up
shrivel up
round up
crumple up
tie up
lock up
dam up
bottle up
bundle up
wrap up
huddle up
cuddle up

In this set of phrasal verbs, the short adverb up suggests the division of something into pieces through the action of the verb:

break up
tear up
slash up
smash up
cut up
rip up
divide up
split up
grind up
chew up
chop up
slice up
crumble up

In this set, the short adverb up suggests the raising of something off the floor through the action of the verb:

pick up
sweep up
scoop up
mop up
lift up
vacuum up
wipe up

In the following set, the short adverb over conveys a meaning of moving forward and down through the action of the verb:

push over
fall over
tip over
knock over
roll over
lean ove
bend over
double over
topple over

For a thorough, clear, and well-organized treatment of phrasal verbs of this kind, see Britten and Dellar (1989).

7. Since a significant number of phrasal verbs have a decidedly colloquial ring, it is important that you watch students' writing carefully to make sure that they are using them appropriately. Do not hesitate to suggest more formal single-word synonyms for more formal styles of writing.

8. For your own personal preparation, it is a good idea to purchase one or two specialized dictionaries of phrasal verbs, because meanings of phrasal verbs are often elusive and difficult to articulate. There are several on the market, for example, NTC's (1999). Most dictionaries of phrasal verbs are well-written, offering clear definitions at the literal, figurative, and idiomatic levels.

9. There are self-instructional workbooks on the market for the study of phrasal verbs (Hook, 1981; Hart, 1999; Side, 1990). Use them as resource material in the preparation of lessons, for they offer ideas for categorizing and presenting phrasal verbs to learners.

10. Several journal articles are available in which teachers share their experiences and offer suggestions on how to address phrasal verbs in an academic setting. Among them are two excellent articles, one by Arnold (1990) and another by Cornell (1985).