By Aoife McLoughlin

21 November 2016 - 16:40

'The English language has about 60 to 70 different prepositions.' Photo (c) Thomas Hawk, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 and adapted from the original.
'The English language has about 60 to 70 different prepositions.' Photo ©

Thomas Hawk, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 and adapted from the original.

How do you make learning prepositions easier for your students? TeachingEnglish blog award winner Aoife McLoughlin of ELT-Connect has some tips.

Prepositions are one of the trickiest aspects of the English language for students to get their heads around. This is mainly down to the multiple meanings of each one, the difficulty of recognising them in speech because they have so few syllables (or are monosyllabic in many cases), and the vastly different meanings they carry, compared to the learners’ own languages.

The English language has about 60 to 70 different prepositions. It’s no wonder our students dread the thought of them, but the good news is that you can make them much less painful.

Here are my top five activities to help students review and have fun with prepositions in an engaging and motivating way (which also helps them stay awake and in their chairs).

1. The classroom ghost: prepositions of place 

Inform your students that you have some bad news; there seems to be a mischievous classroom ghost. Things are not the same as they were when you left the room yesterday. Some items are now in different positions, but you can’t remember what was where, and you need their help.

This activity takes some preparation. You will have to move some things around. For example, you could place some books under a student’s chair, put a marker pen on the window sill, put the clock on the teacher’s chair, put the CD player behind the door, and so on.

Put students into pairs to make a note of what the ‘ghost’ has moved around, and ask them to use ‘prepositions of place’ to make sentences.

For example:

The bin is in the wrong corner. It should be behind the door.
The books are under Francesca’s chair. They are usually on the shelf.

This is great fun for all ages. You could even assign a secret ghost (one student) to make a few more changes to the classroom objects for the following day, and then review again with your students the next day to check what they remember.

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2. Grand design: prepositions of place

In pairs, ask students to describe their ideal bedroom or living room to each other. Now tell students to imagine they have both just won the lottery together and can buy their dream house. With their partners, they have to write a detailed description of their ideal home, using prepositions of place, to give to an interior designer. You can either limit this to one or two rooms, or get the students to design an entire house if they need lots of practice with prepositions of place. As they are designing the house together, they may have to make compromises:

Student A: There is a 50-inch TV screen on the ceiling in the bedroom
Student B: I like the idea of a 50-inch screen but I would prefer it on the living room wall

Once finished, the pairs can join another pair. The first pair can describe their dream house and the other pair can sketch it.  How accurate will they be in drawing each other’s houses?

3. Scavenger hunt: prepositions of movement

This activity can be done on the school premises, or could alternatively be assigned for homework if you teach adults (or teenagers, if the task is supervised).

Create ten clues. Give each small group of students one handout, and instruct them to read the clues together, and take a picture at each point on the scavenger hunt.

  • Walk towards the supermarket. There is a man standing still as you walk through the gates. Take a picture of yourself with him.
  • Along the beach, you will see a statue of a dolphin. Take a selfie with it.
  • Walk up the hill outside the school and over the bridge. Take a picture of the view. When the students return to class the next day, get them to show their pictures and use the prepositions of movement to describe each picture, e.g., As we walked towards the supermarket and through the gates, we saw this statue.

4. The list: prepositions of time and place

Here is another engaging team game to bring a bit of competition to the classroom. Assign students into small teams, at a maximum of four per team. Tell students you will give them a list of ten prepositions. Each team must discuss how many accurate sentences they can create using the ten prepositions. Write the prepositions to be practised on the board, such as: in, under, on, into, above, below, behind, at, in front of, between.

Then, ask the teams how many sentences they think they can produce.

For example:

Team A: We think we can write eight.
Team B: We can do ten.

Both teams now work closely together to write eight and ten accurate sentences. If both teams accurately produce the number of sentences they said they could, they are awarded that number of points: Team A gets eight points and Team B gets ten points. If a team gets even one sentence wrong, and does not get the number they said they would, they get zero points.

If Team A is confident that Team B will not be able to write ten accurate sentences, they can challenge them to list them. If Team B then gets even one sentence wrong, Team A steals their points.

5. Timetable dictation: prepositions of time

Create three train timetables and post them on the walls of the room. Divide your students into three small teams. One student from each group stands by the timetable. The second student must run and listen to the information relayed to them by the first student by the timetable, then return to pass on the details to the third student, who must now take note of the information accurately. Only accurate sentences will get points.

For example:

Student A: What time is the train from Madrid to Barcelona?
Student B: It leaves at 10.00 every day.
Student C: (writes) The train from Madrid to Barcelona leaves at 10.00 on Thursdays.

When complete, give teams a few minutes to review their sentences. Now, get feedback on each group’s sentences and award points for each correct one. If they still need practice, get students to create their own timetables and have some more fun.

Teachers, read Aoife's winning blog post on using pictures in class.

Visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities.

Use our collection of learning resources about life and culture around the world. 

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