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How to Teach Prepositions and Some Class Activities

Prepositions are words governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause. But to make your pupils understand the idea, explain to them that prepositions are words which link nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence.

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What are Prepositions?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a preposition is a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause. But to make your pupils understand the idea, explain to them that prepositions are words which link nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. 

When describing the position of something, the time when something happens or the way in which something is done, we use prepositions.

Functions of Prepositions.

The function of a preposition is to demonstrate the relationship between two words in a sentence, normally between a noun, verb or adjective and a noun (including proper noun), pronoun, or gerund (verb in noun form). For example:


  1. I ran into the classroom.
  2. The lady beside Peter.
  3. She spoke to him.
  4. He is passionate about swimming.
  5. I went to Singapore.


A preposition is normally followed by a noun or pronoun and together they form a “prepositional phrase” (about swimming, into the classroom, beside Peter).

Forms of Prepositions.

Prepositions have no settled form. The most common prepositions are one-word prepositions (on, before, into), however there are two- or three-word phrases known as complex-prepositions that we use in our daily lives (according to, along with, in spite of). One thing to notice is that you should make sure that your pupils know the differences between “Complex prepositions” and “prepositional phrases”.


Many prepositions have literal meanings (in the room) or metaphorical meanings (in love). The meanings can be sorted in categories, for example:


  1. place — under the desk
  2. time — on Thursday
  3. purpose — done for school
  4. possession — a product of mine
  5. manner — by bus
  6. means — with a guitar
  7. movement — towards the rear
  8. accompaniment — without a tool


Some prepositions belong to more than one category, for example “on the table/on Saturday, with his wife/with a hammer).


Metaphorical prepositions are those which are used originally to express space, but then expand their meanings to other functions such as means, manner, etc. They are metaphorical since they have a link to the original meanings but extended based on the idea of polysemy.


Many prepositions can also be adverbs. A preposition always has an object. An adverb does not have an object. For examples:


  1. “They are in the bedroom” vs “Please come in” (no object).
  2. “There was a car before me” vs “I had never seen it before” (no object).
  3. “I will call after school” vs “She called soon after” (no object).


There is one very simple rule about prepositions: a preposition is always followed by a “noun” (occasionally the noun may come before the preposition). It is never followed by a verb.


By “noun” we mean:


  1. noun: cat, love, potato
  2. proper noun: Paris, Lucy, English
  3. pronoun: us, you, him
  4. noun group: my first car
  5. gerund: singing
prepositions 2

Fun In-Class Preposition Activities.

The “Do As I Say” Game.

Put children in pairs, and set a bar or put a desk in front of each pair. On your command children move into a position that illustrates the preposition that you name.


For “under” or “on” children can use the table or the bar, “In front” or “behind” can be done with two pupils, one standing behind or in front of the other. “In” and “out” might be shown with one pupil making a circle with his or her arms, while the other kid stands in the circle or out of it. 


The Classroom Ghosts.

Tell your pupils that you have a bad news: there seems to be a naughty ghost in the classroom. The ghost misplaced some items when you left the room yesterday, and you can’t remember what was where, and you need their help.


Prior to this activity you will have to move some things around. For example, you could place some bricks under a pupil’s chair, put a marker pen on the bookshelf, put a doll on the teacher’s chair, or put the clock behind the door, etc.


Get pupils 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 clock is at the wrong place. It should be on the wall.

The bricks are under someone’s chair. They are usually on the shelf.


You could even assign a child as the secret ghost to make a few more changes to the classroom objects for the following day, and then review again with your class to check what they remember.


Grand Designer.

Put your students in pairs, and ask them to describe their ideal bedroom or living room to each other. Tell your class to imagine that they have all won the lottery and they are able to buy their dream house. Ask them to write a detailed description of their ideal homes, 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. Since they are doing this activity in pairs, they may have to make compromises during designing:


Pupil A: There should be a big TV on the wall in the bedroom.

Pupil B: I like a big screen but I would prefer it in the living room.


Once finished, students can join another pair and share ideas. The first pair can describe their dream house and the other pair can try to sketch it.


Scavenger Hunt.

This activity can be done on the whole school premises or within the classroom if your classroom is big enough. Put children in groups of fours or fives, create several clues, give each small group of students one handout with instructions, and take a picture at each point on the scavenger hunt. Clues and instructions can be like:


Walk towards the school gate. There is a poster of a concert on the wall as you walk out of the building. Take a picture of yourself with the poster.

    Along the playground, you will see a statue of a penguin. Take a selfie with it.


The List Challenger.

Assign pupils into small teams, at a maximum of four per team. Tell them that you will give them a list of ten prepositions. Each team must try to create as many sentences as they can using the ten prepositions. Write the prepositions to be practised on the board, such as: on, in, under, in front of, into, above, behind, at, below, between.


Then, pick two teams and ask them how many sentences they think they can produce. Both teams will then work closely together to write eight and ten accurate sentences. After finished, ask both teams to try and spot any mistakes the other team has made. If both teams accurately produce the number of sentences they said they could and has no mistake, they are awarded that number of points. For example if Team A claimed that they can writer 7 sentences and they wrote 7 with nothing wrong, that’s 7 points for them. If a team gets even one sentence wrong, or does not get the number they said they would, they get zero points.

Grammar with Emile

If you are tired of making props for activities, or you just need one activity that can do all the tricks and get all of your pupils engaged(even the most inactive ones), then you need Grammar with Emile.

It’s a resource on computers or tablets that can easily grab students’ attentions with cute cartoon characters and cool animations, and it actually offers an Assess, Practice and Achieve Model which automatically assess a pupil’s current ability on a certain subject, assign the proper level of practice questions for the pupil to do, and teachers can just sit back and wait to see their pupils achieve a higher level (better marks and improved overall understanding of a subject).

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