How to Teach Prepositions to Second Language Learners

Written by abby slutsky
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How to Teach Prepositions to Second Language Learners
Sitting on a swing or chair can help a child understand the concept of "on". (Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

Second-language learners (SLL) often have difficulty learning prepositions because a preposition is not visual. Teaching the meaning of a preposition is not as simple as holding up an object and announcing its name. According to the Writing Centre, prepositions do not have easily conceptualised meanings, but create a relationship between nouns, pronouns and phrases. Nevertheless, teachers can use objects, actions and pictures to help students learn propositions and understand their meanings.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Dry erase board
  • Dry erase markers
  • Chair
  • Masking tape
  • Pencil
  • Worksheets

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  1. 1

    Write a few prepositions on a dry erase board with a dry erase marker. For example, write "on", "around", and "in" on the board. Draw a line next to each preposition. Place a star on the line next to the preposition "on". Place stars "around" the line next to the word "around". Draw a circle and place a star in the circle next to the word "in". Review the words by saying them and pointing to the picture that depicts each one.

  2. 2

    Reinforce the prepositions by practicing them with the class. Demonstrate the propositions. Sit on a desk and tell the class you are on the desk. Walk around a desk and repeat that you are walking around the desk. Create a masking tape circle on the floor, walk in the circle and tell students you are in the circle.

  3. 3

    Ask the children to demonstrate their knowledge of the prepositions. Give students different commands to see if they can follow them. Ask them to walk around an object, sit on a chair, or stand in the circle you created. Repeat the commands until you are satisfied the children understand them.

  4. 4

    Create a worksheet to test the students knowledge. For example, list the preposition "in" and follow it with a picture of a star in a square and a picture of a star on a square. Ask students to circle the picture that depicts the star in the square. Try to create different combinations of pictures to test the students ability to identify the correct prepositions. Collect the worksheet when it is completed to test the students understanding.

  5. 5

    Introduce other prepositions as students understand the first ones taught. Repeat the process.

Tips and warnings

  • When orally asking the children to circle items on the worksheet, be specific. For example, state that you want them to identify the picture that depicts "in" based on the position of a specific object.
  • As the children learn more prepositions, make worksheets more challenging by offering questions with three or four pictures instead of two.
  • More advanced students can draw their own pictures. Give them a worksheet with a box. Tell them to draw a triangle on, around, or in the box. Try the exercise with other prepositions as they learn them.
  • Do not rush teaching prepositions. Students will need to practice. Repetition is important.

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