Talking About Fun with Phrasal Verbs

“Great minds discuss ideas;

average minds discuss events;

small minds discuss people.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962), American politician, activist and chairman of the drafting committee for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

This Teacher Edition Tuesday post, a weekly series based on ten teaching tips from the recently released Compelling American Conversations – Teacher Edition, shows how to introduce phrasal verbs related to the common verb “talk”.


Talking About Fun with Phrasal Verbs 

“Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things,

and small people talk about wine.”

-Fran Lebowitz (1950- ), American author, comedian and public speaker


Let’s talk about “talk” about phrasal verbs.

Context remains crucial for understanding many conversations,  and phrasal verbs can go a long way in establishing context. In English for example a fundamental difference exists between ‘talking back’ and ‘talking behind someone’s back’. Talking back implies a direct confrontation, while “talking behind someone’s back” suggests distance,  gossiping, and breaking confidentiality. Likewise, the tone of voice and body language also play a role in affecting meaning. When someone “talks back” they challenge authority, and often seem aggressive. Compare this action to talking “behind someone’s back,” which indicates hushed exchanges and quick glances around the room to make sure the conversation isn’t picked up by eavesdroppers. Teaching phrasal phrases – or two-and three-word verbs – remains an effective way to expand English language learner’s vocabulary – and handle those pesky prepositions.

Let’s review a list of common American phrasal verbs involving “talk” to go over in class:

To talk about – Discussing a topic

  • Speak of the devil.. We were just talking about you.


To talk back – Replying rudely instead of being polite

  • Don’t talk back to the police.  Please politely listen, nod your head, directly answer questions and stay out of trouble.


To talk down – Reducing the importance of something, to make something smaller than it is

  • They talked down the success of our project out of  jealousy.


To talk down to – Speaking to someone as if they were inferior to you

  • We’re co-workers, but she talked down to me as if I was a child.


To talk someone into – To persuade someone to do something

  • He doesn’t want to go to the concert,   but I think I can talk him into it. He likes to make me smile…


To talk someone out of – To persuade someone not to do something.

  • Do you really need $250 ice cream maker? How do I talk you out of this silly purchase?


To talk over – Discussing a problem or situation before making a decision.

  • Can we talk your idea over?  We really should discuss this decision together, and make a common decision for our future.


After introducing a vocabulary list, we recommend giving ESL students a chance to immediately use the language. Asking our students to write three questions with the phrasal verb remains a simple, time-tested technique.  Compelling American Conversations uses this exercise after all vocabulary expansion techniques.


Please write 3 new questions with a phrasal verb connected to “talk”


As students write their questions, you can circle the room and provide casual feedback. After 10 minutes or so, students can work in small groups or pairs and ask each other the questions above.  This flexible ESL exercise allows English students to activate new vocabulary in a meaningful, communicative activity.

How do you “talk about” phrasal verbs with your English language learners? As ever, we greatly appreciate your tips and feedback.


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Teacher Edition Tuesdays feature material introduced in Compelling American Conversations – Teacher Edition, the companion text to the original Compelling American Conversations. Sample chapters of each are available on and We also offer a free copy of the Teacher Edition with class sets for adult ESL schools, literacy centers, Intensive English language programs (IEP) , church and other non-profit groups offering ESL classes to immigrants and refugees. Contact Eric Roth here for more information.

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