Many adults who learn EFL (English as a Foreign Language) or ESL (English as a Second Language) have problems figuring out how to use propositions correctly.
Students who are Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese especially have a lot of problems with prepositions, as the prepositions they use in their own language are completely different than in English.
Where we say “I live IN Bangkok”, Thais say “I live AT Bangkok”, and where we get “ON the bus” they get “IN the bus”. So, when they try to translate directly from Thai into English using the same prepositions, that’s when the confusion begins.
Finding free lesson plans on the internet about prepositions is also difficult. So, here’s a really fun free lesson plan, that will not only help your students understand prepositions, but will also give them a lot of fun learning.
It can be used from Beginner Level to Advanced (because even advanced students have problems with prepositions sometimes).
Expected Learning Outcome – Students will learn how to use ‘in, on, at’ and prepositions of place ‘under, over, behind, in front of etc.’. They will review known English prepositions as well as learn new ones.
Materials and Resources – Whiteboard markers and a handout listing the ‘in, on’ at’ prepositions and the ‘prepositions of place’.
Step One – Give each student a handout on ‘in,on, at’ and prepositions of place ‘behind, in front of, next to etc.’. There are many websites online that have great handouts on these prepositions, so just do a search and choose the handouts that you think will be the easiest for your students to understand.
Step Two – Go over each handout, explaining when each preposition is used and why. Confusion usually occurs when it comes to why in English we say “getting on the bus” but “in a taxi”. My students also had problems figuring out when you’re ‘in bed’ and when you’re ‘on the bed’ (the idea of being under sheets and covers never occurred to them — primarily because many Thais do not actually use a top sheet, just lie on top of the bed to sleep — hot country, remember!).
Step Three – When you have finished with the preposition explanations and most students seem to understand, go around the classroom giving each student a sentence with the preposition missing. Each student then has to tell you the preposition that would go there. If, after one or two rounds around the classroom, most students are getting the prepositions correct at least 75% of the time, they’re ready to move onto the game.
Step Four – Before class, make sure you’ve drawn a game board on the whiteboard. I drew a game board with 50 squares on it, and numbered them 1 through 50. Then I drew either a snake or a ladder on at least 10 squares. (Yes, this is the classic ‘Snakes and Ladders’ game, but altered for EFL prepositions.) Also, make sure you choose at least 10 other squares and write on them either “Other team moves forward 4 squares” or “Your team moves forward 4 squares”. I also do five squares where I write “Other team moves back 4 squares” and “Your team moves back 4 squares”.
Now, you split your students into two teams and each team gets to choose the color of the whiteboard marker that will represent their team. You use this to make a mark for each team on the whiteboard every time they move forward. Just make sure you remember to erase the old marks as they move, or it can get confusing.
The first team now starts on the first square and throws the dice. They then move to whichever square the dice number indicates. Once on the square, their team is given a sentence and they have to say which preposition fits in the sentence.
If they get the sentence wrong, they have to move back to where they were before they threw the dice. This is repeated with the second team. As teams move around the board, make sure the sentences get more difficult until they have to say which ‘three’ or ‘four’ prepositions go in the sentence.
Of course, if they land on a square with a ladder they go up it, and if they land on a square with the head of a snake, they go down it.
Also, if the team lands on a square that says “Your team moves forward 4 squares” they get to move forward another 4 squares. The ones they love the best though are when they land on the square that says “Other team goes back 4 squares” and the opposing team has to move back four squares. Even my adult students love when this happens and really love playing the Snakes and Ladders Preposition Game.
Continue with the game (if time allows) until the first team reaches the finish line. For me, if I’m running out of time, the team that gets the furthest around the board before the end of class is the winning team and usually gets chocolate or cookies to share.
Evaluation/Assessment: 1. participation in class, 2. students’ ability to fill in the preposition blanks correctly, 3. ability to work in pairs (with small classes) or as a team member.
This really is a wonderful way to learn how to use prepositions. The students don’t even realize they’re having to work at learning prepositions, as they’re having so much fun playing the game. At the end of the game though, most of them understand how prepositions work much better than before.