Understanding and using appropriate prepositions of place and motion are often difficult for ESL students to grasp and it takes time for them to become comfortable with these types of words. They become confused when there are a host of similar prepositions and often need plenty of help and clarification. As is often the case, visualization is a key element to learning and can make the process much easier and enjoyable for students and teacher alike. I have included three games which make the process of learning prepositions fun for all parties. Here we go:
- Exercise 1: Preposition Tree
- Teacher draws a nice big tree on the board. Next teacher asks students to call out items which are specific to trees. If a student yells, “bird”, draw a bird somewhere on the tree and ask the class where it is. Obviously, the answer should be that, “the bird is in the three.” Try a number of these exercises until they become comfortable with the use of the prepositions of place. Draw a boy sitting under the tree eating an apple. Ask, “where is the boy?” and when they get this right, ask, “now where is the apple?” It becomes slightly more difficult. The possibilities here are limitless and it gives the kids the opportunity to visualize the meaning of individual prepositions, providing them with the know how to differentiate them and use them accurately. You can even have students come to the front of the class to draw their own ideas. A student might draw a cow on top of the tree. Although not an accurate representation of a cow’s niche, it will still afford the opportunity for students to say, “the cow is on (or on top of) the tree,” improving their use of prepositions of place.
- Note 1: If time allows, it might also be fun to construct a tree – make it a class project – and have the students attach little figures, birds, critters, people, etc at various places in and around the tree and have them come up with the appropriate prepositions.
- Note 1: Teaching negatives. If the boy is under the tree, help the students learn where the boy isn’t. “He is under the tree, so he isn’t….” Wait for the answer.
- Exercise 2: Preposition Street
- Prepositions of motion present another challenge to teachers because they have to find a way to explain how things move, within the confines of the classroom. There are number of classic tactics, but a personal favorite is to draw a large city street, complete with some parked cars, traffic, buildings and people. Draw someone getting into or out of a car and ask, “what is he/she doing?” Eventually, someone will say that the man/woman is getting into/out of his/her car, or getting on/off the bus. Next, focus on pedestrians. Look at two people walking past each other and ask, “what are they doing?” Give praise when the class replies that, “they are walking past each other.” As was the case with the tree, the possibilities are limitless and only bound by one’s imagination. Like the preposition tree, when students become more comfortable, call them to the front of the class and have them draw their own ideas.
- Exercise 3: Preposition “I spy with my little eye”
- This is a pretty straight forward game but may require some explanation if the students are not aware of how to play I Spy. Once this has been made clear, the teacher picks an object in a room – for example the door – and says, “I spy with my little eye something that is rectangular/square/red/whatever. Students try to decipher the answer by asking questions with prepositions: For example, is it next to the window? No it isn’t, or yes it is. Once a student guesses the correct object, it is his/her turn to look around the room and “spy” an object for the rest of the class to discover.
- Learning prepositions is a key element to the development of a student’s language skills. They are often thought of as boring, which is in part why students often have such a hard time with them. They don’t enjoy learning about them and therefore don’t learn them as well as other language elements. Makes sense I think. However, with these and other games, students will see that prepositions can be fun and they will want to learn. As already stated, they are an essential component of fluent speech and by using creative means to teach them, you may find that you enjoy teaching prepositions as much as students enjoy learning them.
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