Learning phrasal verbs (PVs) is of vital importance in both written and spoken English, especially for those English learners who must use English as a second language (ESL) in their daily interactions with proficient speakers. This study focused on two particles (out and in) in exploring a more effective model for presenting PVs in an ESL context. PVs are the focus of this empirical study because they are an essential component of English vocabulary but are typically regarded as very difficult for ESL students to master. This study used a quasi-experimental design to compare the effect of instruction through image-schematic container illustrations of 16 PVs (supported by the container metaphor model) and a definition-only illustration of the same 16 PVs (supported by the traditional model of PV instruction). The participants in this experiment consisted of 28 intermediate-level students enrolled in intensive English program (IEP) courses at a metropolitan college in the southeastern United States during the summer of 2019; the students were divided into a control group and an experimental group. Four types of instruments, including one pretest and three posttests, were used in this experiment to examine the effectiveness of the container metaphor model compared with the traditional model. The findings of this study challenge the traditional view regarding the difficulty of teaching the meanings of these 16 PVs and suggest that the container metaphor model is more conducive to PV learning and retention. However, the findings of this study showed little evidence that the container metaphor model can assist in guessing the meaning of previously unknown PVs. The practical implications demonstrated from these results can be used by ESL teachers and educational stakeholders to validate English-teaching practices. Therefore, this model was recommended to be considered as one model of presenting PVs. The current study demonstrated that researchers should include infrequent PVs in their research in addition to the frequent ones. Finally, limitations of the current study are identified and recommendations for organizing future studies on this topic are proposed.


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Graduation Date





Mihai, Florin


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Community Innovation and Education


School of Teacher Education

Degree Program

Education; Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages









Release Date

December 2019

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)