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5 Tips for Beginning Prepositions


Start With Object Lessons

I start up my preposition teaching with young children by using objects to teach relationships. They learned that prepositions show position for recitation. Then I use an object such as a little Preposition Practice Pal. It’s a little toy,  like an army man, Polly pocket, or a character from a movie. They use this little character with a bathroom tissue  tube to show the position of the character to the tube.
A young student can learn up to one hundred prepositions with this method. For example as they manipulate their little character and a bathroom tissue tube, we say aloud,  “Birdie is UNDER the tube”; “Birdie is IN the tube”; “Birdie is AROUND the tube”; “Birdie is BETWEEN the tube”; “Birdie is AWAY from the tube”; “Birdie is THROUGH the tube.”


 Use Rhymes and Mnemonics to Teach the Basics of Prepositions

I start all of my students out with the rhyme/recitation: “Prepositions Show Position.” One of the most important things that prepositions do is show a spatial relationship between one thing and another thing. We recite this rhyme weekly for several weeks and then do our practice with our objects.
Through the objects, as well as the rhyme, “Prepositions show position,” I am reinforcing the fact that a preposition has to have an object. I don’t even tell the students at this point that a preposition is the beginning of a prepositional phrase and that it has an object. They intuitively know that a preposition has an object that it is spatially related to. This makes it much easier later on to explain prepositional phrases. All of their positions with their toy and their tissue tube result in prepositional phrases naturally.


Use Preposition Check Sentences to Teach the Spatial Relationship and the Time Relationship of Prepositions

Once students have learned the rhyme “Prepositions show position” and have practiced extensively with their objects to learn at least 20 to 50 prepositions, I move into the two Preposition Check Sentences that I use for all  levels from fifth grade and above. A Check Sentence continues to reinforce the spatial relationship: “The plane flew XXXX the clouds.” We have also used the sentence “The angel flew XXX the clouds” in our religious books. This first Check Sentence re-emphasizes what they have been doing with their little Preposition Practice Pals, except they start to do it in their heads rather than with physical objects. Most students can get up to 100 propositions memorized quickly with this check sentence alone.

The second check sentence that I use is one that shows the relationship of prepositions to time. While there is a small list of prepositions that have to do with time, there are enough to warrant their own check sentence. This Preposition Check Sentence  reads like this: “The boy played XXXX the break.” This check sentence accommodates the propositions that have to do with time: during, after, before, in the middle of, etc. 



Don’t Rely on Songs or Rhymes Alone for Teaching Prepositions

Many students, myself included, have learned prepositions with songs or rhymes that have 30 or 40 prepositions in them. These lists are oftentimes  in alphabetical order, which helps with those many many propositions that begin with the letter A. However, since there are well over 200 preposition possibilities if you consider two or more words prepositions, compound prepositions, and prepositions that are used as other parts of speech at times, learning only thirty of them in a rhyme or song is not useful enough.
The other problem with learning them in only song or rhyme is that the song or rhyme has nothing to do with the usage of the propositions. While I use all types of songs, rhymes, mnemonic, jingles, and more to teach parts of speech, it is important that we use a mechanism that actually teaches students that use of that part of speech. Check sentence (for prepositions and for subordinators) teach students not only these lists of words, but they teach them these lists of words in the context of how they are used. In other words, they don’t just learn a list of prepositions, but they learn them in a spatial relationship sentence, which teaches them HOW they are used AND gives them a lengthy list of them in their repertoire. 



Teach Students the Reason They Are Learning Prepositions As Early As Possible

As soon as students have an ample list of prepositions memorized, I teach them the reason that they are learning prepositions. The transition from learning a list of prepositions to finding prepositional phrases is a fairly easy one for students who have learned prepositions with a Preposition Practice Pal and Preposition Check Sentences. Just like in the Check Sentence when I asked the student “The plane flew in WHAT?” or “The plane flew around WHAT?” I do the same thing to teach prepositional phrases. First, students highlight prepositions in a paragraph, then we go through and put parentheses around prepositional phrases. We do this by my asking the question “Preposition WHOM?”  or “Preposition WHAT?” For example “By what?” (by the store) or “To who?” (to Joe). 

Once students can spot prepositional phrases easily, they learn that prepositional phrases are needed for two specific reasons. First, they are used as sentence openers. They learn that a prepositional phrase opener is often followed by a comma. They also learn prepositional phrases with in sentences are not followed by commas. Secondly, they learn to isolate prepositional phrases all throughout their sentences so that they can ignore the words in a prepositional phrases and match their subjects and verbs easily. For example, The girls (in the class) have straight A’s (not class HAS but girls HAVE). 

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Resources for This Slideshow:

1) Start With Object Lessons:
2) Use Rhymes and Mnemonics to Teach the Basics of Prepositions:
3. Use Preposition Check Sentences to Teach the Spatial Relationship and the Time Relationship of Prepositions:
4. Don’t Rely on Songs or Rhymes Alone for Teaching Prepositions:
5. Teach Students the Reason They Are Learning Prepositions As Early As Possible:

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