22. Prepositions -How to understand them = make them visual and practical!



Prepositions can be confusing, especially when there are false friends involved. For spanish speakers ´to think in something´or ´to depend of something´can easily slip into speech as when they are translated literally, they are perfectly valid. This interference of ´native language´is well documented (see the british council link HERE) and needs to be tackled asap. But my quiestion is this, how do we get students to understand prepositions? And also, more that that, is it necessary for them to understand them? As with most language, we need to start off with the most frequently used forms, give them context and use them enough so that they can sink in. It is important for students to have an understanding of word classes and know what a preposition is, what type of preposition they are using and also the basic meaning behind each preposition. It is good to chunk prepositions, for example, looking at all the uses of ´at´and allowing students to get to grips with it before moving on to the next one. A great way to do this is by making prepositions very visual and using examples. I generally link prepositions to concepts, such as, back representing the act of returning, out to demonstrate removal. I have incourporated useful tips into this post to help out.

As I have said previously, it is important to state the different types of preposition and to reinforce them through examples. They can be incorporated into almost any classroom activity, whether it be reading, listening, writing or speaking. They can be used in matching, skim reading, speaking games and listening skills tasks and can be made fun. I think it is important to have a visual link to prepositions, therefore I like to use diagrams (see below) to relate tasks to during class time.

Prepositions of time


Prepostions of place and movement

Prepostions of movement and position are a difficult concept to grasp with only theory. They need to be practical. Teachers should not be affraid to experiment with their students and do practical activities. These activities can include team building tasks, outdoor activities etc. It all depends on the amount of time and resources available to the teacher.


Verb/adjective/noun + preposition

Matching words + prepositions can be a fun activity and it is a great opportunity to add a sense of competition into the classroom. I particuarly like to include prepositions into classroom challanges and encourage students to expreiment with them. Here is a game that I have made. What can be really confusing is where no preposition is necessary but the word has a synonym or equivilent with a preposition. These subtle differences need to be looked at.

A great way to help with the memorization of prepositions can be through the use of colour and you should encourage your students to create mind maps and to colour code prepositions. I personally encourage my students to make a vocabulary bank and we assign a colour to each preposition to help trigger memory to be able to recall the correct preposition when needed.


Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs can Beverly tricky but they are all about context, students don´t really need to understand how to manipulate them until C1 level (in my humble opinion) so it is important to give students the context to be able to use phrasal verbs and link them to certain situations. A good way to give context is to link phrasal verbs to their synonyms (e.g. get into = start liking something). Students need to practice them little and often to be able to relate them to contexts.


Fixed expressions


I genuinely believe that prepositions are not a part of language that we can brush under the table as they are very important for meaning and structure, if we look at exam boards such as cambridge, trinity or ielts, they are an essential part of their evaluations and use of English. It is important not to bore our students with long lists and to provide our students with opportunities to use prepositions in avrious contexts so that they can internalize them and begin to understand their function.

Here is a link to some further reading about prepositions from the British council HERE

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