Using prepositions in English is a challenge for most learners. How can we help them gain accuracy with these words? We seem to tackle them with relative ease in the context of location and direction. Students quickly learn how to describe the position of objects in a room and the direction people are heading in. I’ve shared activities to practice these uses before. (Set 1 and Set 2)
The next step is making students aware of grammatical units with prepositions. We can explain, for example, that there are many collocations with a verb + preposition structure. However, since the list of examples is quite long, it then becomes a matter of learning vocabulary. How much vocabulary should students learn? A limited amount to allow for practice and review. Also, I like texts and activities that keep the collocations in context.
Lately I’ve given thought to the value of studying prepositions in isolation. While I think phrases like mad at, proud of, and beg for can be taught as a lexical unit, I feel a good number of upper level students appreciate attention to the prepositions all alone. Shouldn’t we take the time to explain that “at” helps us express where our actions or feelings are directed, as in mad at someone? “Of” can express belonging (e.g., a part of your body) or it can identify the object of your feelings (e.g., afraid of the dark). “For” helps us express intention or purpose (e.g., I’d do anything for you.) If students have a sense of these meanings, they’ll have an easier time picking up new collocations with prepositions, such as suspicious of and qualified for.
Please take a look at my Think about it_handout. The first two exercises are much like a simple worksheet. They serve the purpose of determining accuracy and awareness. Once students have given some attention to the meanings of prepositions, you can then move into more meaningful use via the final short speaking activity. You’ll note that I included a few prepositions of time because I feel they usually raise a few doubts as well.