Education Publications

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Publication Date

Summer 7-25-2019


Modern Language Journal





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EFL textbooks and internet resources exhibit various formats and implementations of exercises on phrasal verbs. The experimental study reported here examines whether some of these might be more effective than others. EFL learners at a university in Japan were randomly assigned to four treatment groups. Two groups were presented first with phrasal verbs and their meaning before they were prompted to retrieve the particles from memory. The difference between these two retrieval groups was that one group studied and then retrieved items one at a time, while the other group studied and retrieved them in sets. The two other groups received the exercises as trial-and-error events, where participants were prompted to guess the particles and were subsequently provided with the correct response. One group was given immediate feedback on each item, while the other group tackled sets of 14 items before receiving feedback. The effectiveness of these exercise implementations was compared through an immediate and a 1-week delayed post-test. The best test scores were obtained when the exercises had served the purpose of retrieval, although this advantage shrank in the delayed test (where scores were poor regardless of treatment condition). On average 70% of the post-test errors produced by the learners who had tackled the exercises by trial-and-error were duplicates of incorrect responses they had supplied at the exercise stage, which indicates that corrective feedback was often ineffective.

Citation of this paper:

Strong, B., & Boers, F. (2019). Weighing up exercises on phrasal verbs: Retrieval versus trial-and-error practices. The Modern Language Journal, 103(3), 562–579.

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