Props for Preps: 4 Crowd-pleasing Preposition Activities for ESL Classes

Let’s get right on topic.

Yes, in this post, we’re going to get behind some excellent ways to introduce prepositions to your ESL students.

As you already know, prepositions are those bite-sized words that can often be confusing or challenging for language learners.

To your students, English prepositions may seem to be used randomly, as if on a whim or according to a roll of dice.

But prepositions are not extraneous little words.

They are, in fact, powerful little words that are essential for describing and eliciting action.

So why not bring some of that action into your classroom?

By taking advantage of your “creative teacher” side, you can craft exciting, informative and dynamic preposition activities your students will love.

In this post, we’ll talk about exactly how to do that.

Preposition Prep: Be Aware of Common Pitfalls

While teaching prepositions, you may encounter a few problems resulting from students attempting one-to-one translation from their native language to English. Your students may also find working with prepositions to be challenging due to the lack of structured rules regarding the use of prepositions in their speech and writing.

There is no way around it, prepositions are often arbitrary in nature and can even vary by country within the same language. For example, users of British English more commonly say “at the weekend,” but in American English it is more common to say “on the weekend.”

Focusing your students’ attention on practical usage may eliminate some common preposition missteps. Games and activities that develop practical usage and show your students how to use prepositions in an exciting way are key to their ESL development.

Developing Your Preposition Activities

When you are crafting your awesome ESL preposition activities, it is essential to keep in mind that you should aim for teaching the most commonly used prepositions. Presenting and showing your students prepositions of place, time and direction through action is a great place to start. It will allow them to learn relevant usage.

Let your students experience the way native English speakers utilize prepositions. You can encourage your students by keeping your activities enthusiastic and, ultimately, exciting.

To get you started, here are four action-packed ESL activities to spice up your preposition lessons.

Props for Preps: 4 Crowd-pleasing Preposition Activities for ESL Classes

1. Total Physical Response (TPR) Preposition Activity

Developing practical usage for prepositions of place is an excellent “place” to begin. Building your students’ response to preposition commands will help them process those commands and more easily take action based on them, a useful skill that can be applied to situations ranging from casual conversations to business presentations.

Total Physical Response Warm Up 

There are plenty of prepositions of place you can present to your class in a visual manner. Action is key to this preposition activity warm up and you can spark interest and enthusiasm in your students if you get a bit creative.

Take a large book and begin placing it in different places around a desk. Let your students call out and explain where the book is, using correct prepositions of place.

For example:

“The book is on the desk.”

“The book is in front of the desk.”

Take the next step in your warm up by getting more animated with your movements: Ditch the book and crawl under the desk. Hop to the side of it. Have your students describe your actions. By doing this, you will instantly create a fun and focused environment for your students to begin their preposition activity and their attention will remain on you as you present the material.

Doing the Total Physical Response Activity

Once your students are having a bit of fun and feeling up for a more challenging exercise, you’re going to employ the TPR method in your main preposition activity. TPR is a method used in guiding your students to respond quickly and physically to specific commands. This is an exceptional way to put prepositions of place into action. So have your students stand up and begin giving them commands with prepositions of place.

For example:

“Stand behind your desk.”

“Crawl under your desk.”

“Go to the back of the room.”

All of your commands should be met with the correct physical response. This will get your students up and moving around the classroom in a fun and organized way.

2. Strike a Pose Preposition Activity

This ESL preposition activity is a great way to get your students communicating and collaborating. Building on ESL sub-skills in every lesson is a wonderful way to reinforce new material. This activity will also develop your students’ understanding of prepositions of direction and place. They will discuss new prepositions, have to describe what they see and instruct classmates using the previously discussed prepositions.

Strike a Pose Warm Up

There may be a large number of prepositions used in this activity and it is essential to present and go over all the prepositions before beginning. You can even utilize a worksheet with each preposition of direction and place for your students to reference during the activity.

To begin the warm up, stand at the front of the class and strike a pose. Have your students describe your pose using prepositions from their worksheet or written on the board behind you. This will build a visual memory for each pose and preposition. Having students mimic your pose is an excellent way to get them more involved.

Doing the Strike a Pose Activity

With their worksheets in front of them and all new material presented and acted out, it is time to put your students to the test. Have one student leave the room and have another student get into a certain pose, similar to what you demonstrated during the warm up. Allow your students to begin describing the pose using prepositions of direction and place.

For example:

“She is in front of the class.”

“Her left hand is on top of her head.”

“She is in the right corner, in front of the class.”

They will describe until they run out of prepositions.

Next, you will bring the student from outside the class back in. The student who was outside will stand at the door and wait for instructions from the students who were in the classroom during the example pose. They will instruct the student who came from outside the classroom on where to go and how to pose, using prepositions in their instructions. The idea is for them to instruct the student to end up in the same pose as the previous student.

At this point in the activity, you will step back and become an observer.

This activity gives your students a unique opportunity to immediately use newly learned material in a practical and fun way.

3. Dice of Time and Action Preposition Activity

This preposition activity is a definite crowd pleaser. For it, you will use two dice, one for prepositions of time and the other for actions. You can whip up a worksheet explaining what preposition and action corresponds with each different side of the dice.

For example, a preposition roll of 3 may represent the preposition “while” and an action roll of 4 may represent the action of “running.” If this combination is rolled, your students will then need to develop a sentence using “while” and “running.”

Their sentence should look something like this:

“I was running while listening to music.”

Dice of Time and Action Warm Up

Getting your students warmed up and ready to roll for this activity is essential. It is an excellent idea to go over the specific prepositions and actions that will be used during the activity. Presenting them in an animated way is best. You can act out running in front of your class, for example, and go over the various prepositions of time with open classroom discussion.

Here’s an example of prepositions and actions you could use for your dice.

Prepositions die:

  1.  for (number of days, weeks, months or years)
  2. during
  3. until
  4. since
  5. at (times)
  6. on (dates and days)

Actions die:

  1. running 
  2. working 
  3. driving/commuting
  4. shopping
  5. showering
  6. studying

So for example, a preposition role of 1 and an activity roll of 1 could result in this sentence:

“I have been running marathons for five years.”

Doing the Dice of Time and Action Activity

After your students have eagerly watched you acting out actions and you have all discussed the important prepositions of time, separate your class into groups. You can do this activity as a whole class, but throwing a bit of competition into the mix is fun. Let a representative of each group roll the dice and begin crafting sentences. Each team member with a grammatically correct sentence gets a point. The activity continues until all group members have rolled. The team with the most points is crowned the victor.

4. Calendar Events Preposition Activity

This activity is an exceptional way to get your students pondering and using essential prepositions of time. A great approach to this activity is to put a simple calendar template on a worksheet and allow each student to write in their own personalized events.

To begin the activity, your students will fill in the days of their calendar with events that may be real or not. This will be, among other things, a pronunciation activity. It will be done in pairs and build some essential ESL sub-skills around communication, questions and answers.

Calendar Events Warm Up

In order for your students to be successful in this ESL preposition activity, you should show them how it is done first. Before this lesson, build your own calendar to share with your class and open the floor for discussion regarding your events. Explain to your students that they must utilize key prepositions of time in order to discuss the events. This should be a fun open discussion that will get your students buzzing with loads of preposition use.

Doing the Calendar Events Activity 

Now that your students have seen your awesome calendar as an example and they are confident in what they need to do, pair them up and let them go for it. They will be asking each other questions to prompt the filling in of events. You can help them along with a few scripted questions, either placed on the board, verbally expressed or added to the worksheet below the calendar.

For example:

“What did you do last Saturday?”

“What did you do during the week?”

“Tell me your plans for this weekend.”

Developing some rules for this activity is a great way to get your students to utilize several prepositions instead of using the same ones over and over. You can make a list on the back of the worksheet or maybe above or in the margins. Have several prepositions of time listed. Each time a student uses one of the prepositions, they can cross it off on the worksheet. You could even make this into more of a game scenario, having the winning pair be the team that crosses off all of their prepositions first.

It is always a great tactic to float around the room and make sure students are staying on task and using prepositions.

You can even implement writing into this activity, allowing students to write down a few of their partner’s answers about their events.


So there you go.

Now, wouldn’t you like to try some of these activities out?

Bring action to your classroom and let the prepositions fly from desk to desk with interactive, crowd-pleasing fun that will keep your students enthused and eager to learn.

Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

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