ESL Preposition Games & Activities

Instructor: Benjamin Blanchard

Ben has taught ESL and web programming and has a M.S. in education.

Prepositions are often a challenge for students learning English as a second language (ESL). Here you'll find some ideas for games and activities to teach your ESL learners about prepositions.

Preposition Practice Ought to Be Dynamic

Prepositions can be a tough part of the English language for students to master, but they're necessary for effective communication. Repeated practice and memorization is often the only way to develop proficiency in using them. Since it's often difficult to express their meaning out of context, it's a good idea to devise ways for your ESL students to practice them in contexts that they'll have a good time with.

How to Choose an Activity or a Game

Many prepositions in English perform many different functions, so it's a good idea to prepare lots of different exercises to expose students to their various uses. Students can benefit from practicing prepositions of time separately from prepositions of positions, for example. It's a good idea, however, to also include some integrated practice, in which students use them both in the same activity.

Since prepositions often describe relationships among objects or ideas, students can act out or diagram those relationships in memorable ways that they can connect to the sound and spelling of the prepositions.

Diagramming prepositions: Chair on table, apple above table, and book beside table
Prepositions with Objects 2

Games and Activities

Prepositions offer the chance to engage in some dynamic games and activities. Let's look at some of these now.

Basic Preposition Position Game

This game can be played with a group or pairs of students; it's a variation of 'I spy'. One student thinks of an object somewhere in the area visible to them both. The other student is the guesser and has to determine the identity of the object by asking questions based on a list of place prepositions. For example, each question must use one of these words: 'in', 'on', 'at', 'under', 'over', 'above', 'outside', 'inside'. You can set a limit to how many guesses are allowed and count successful guesses to determine a winner.

Basic preposition game helps ESL students learn position: under, on, and beside
Prepositions with Objects 1

Preposition Pairs

From a list of prepositions, make cards with one preposition written on each. The list can be made up of pairs of preposition opposites (e.g., 'under'/'over', 'up'/'down', 'before'/'after', 'towards'/'away from', 'to'/'from.') Cards are all placed face down, and players take turns flipping two at a time to get a match of opposites. If the player does not get a match, the next player takes a turn. If the player does get a match, he or she removes the matching cards and keeps them. The player with the most cards when all have been taken is the winner.

Drawing/Arranging with Blanks

Prepare some images that do not have many objects in the scene - for instance, an empty room or a street scene. Have students take turns drawing or placing images of other objects onto the scene in response to prompts that include prepositional phrases. Students working in pairs can take turns creating the prompts from a list of prepositions being practiced.

In/On/At, Month/Day/Time Practice

To practice date and time prepositions, have students take turns giving a 'long answer' about when specific events (such as their births) took place. For instance, if your precise date of birth is 2/2/1995, 2:30 p.m., you'd say 'I was born AT 2:30, ON Wednesday, IN February, ON the second, IN the year 1995.' In addition, write the entire date of events on the board and ask students about the day, the year, etc., of the various events. You can gradually increase the speed at which you ask the questions to increase the challenge.

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