How to Teach Prepositions of Time

How to Teach Prepositions of Time

I believe it is critical to inject excitement into lessons, tickling multiple regions in the brain, in direct proportion to the dullness and drabness of the factoids we must teach our students. The incredible challenge in teaching really boring material is that it is also boring to the teacher, and, believe me, children pick up on our emotions as we teach! If the subject matter bores us to tears, it will bore the children as well. Prepositions fall easily into this category of most boring content.

So let’s make it fun! Use body movement, color, images, and hands-on activities, and make it such a riot that the children will never ever forget.

By way of review: What does the word preposition mean?

If we break the word into parts, we have PRE and POSITION. A preposition is a word that is positioned before (pre) another word or phrase in a sentence and relates directly to that second word.

Some examples

The red word is the preposition; the italicized word is the word it refers to:

He ran down the hill.

She put it on the table.

He hid behind Charles.

We can play after lunch.

The bird flew over the trees.

We are in the house.

Types of prepositions

Location: under, over, in, by, between, upon, near, beneath, beside, inside, outside, below, etc. The word that follows the preposition is the central object, such as in the sentence, “The runners sprinted across the river.”

Time: before, after, since, during, until, as, etc. These relate to a specific time such as in the sentence, “We will play before lunch.” Lunch is the central event, and playing will happen in relation to that event in time.

How to teach prepositions of time

You will need:

  • Children.
  • Art materials, including a long banner of paper to make a timeline on.
  • Large, long sheets of paper like banner paper; one per group of children.

Choose an event

I used lunch in my example sentence above, so let’s go with that for now. Lunch is the event. You will plan lunch to happen at noon.

Make a timeline with the children. It is better if they do the work, so you might prefer to divide them into groups to make the timelines. Beauty is not the key, but rather, just hours marked off before and after lunch. See an example here:

How to teach the prepositions of time to a visual or right-brained learner

The numbers across the top represent hours in the day. With lunch being the central event, all other events take a back seat to the grand hotdog!

Add events around the main event

Next, have the children put their heads together to plan other events that happen in their day. Suggestions include:

  • Packing my lunch
  • Computer lab and various other classes
  • Announcements at lunch
  • Lining up for lunch
  • Talking with a friend
  • Packing up book bag
  • Riding home

Now, have the children divvy up the events and assign the ones they will use to members of their group. The kids will draw something to represent the event and label their drawings.

Choose a preposition to go with the additional events

Next, the children will need to select a preposition as they decide when additional events happened in relationship to lunch (ex: before, during, after). In the sample sentences below, the preposition is in all caps and the word the preposition refers to is bolded. (Make sure the children know that the bolded word is a noun):

  • IN the morning, I put an apple IN my lunch.
  • We have lunch AT noon.
  • BEFORE lunch, we have PE, reading, and computer lab.
  • DURING lunch, I get to see my best friends.
  • I have been feeling really stuffed SINCE lunch.
  • AFTER lunch we have music, math, and science.
  • AT lunch the principal made announcements at the microphone.
  • We always have lunch BETWEEN 11:00 and 1:00.
  • BY 11:50, we were lined up for lunch.
  • 3 hours AFTER lunch, I packed up my book bag.
  • 3 ½ hours AFTER lunch, I got on the bus to go home!

Write a sentence about each event and illustrate

Have the children write their sentence in pencil on their drawing of the event they were assigned to draw and then the group will collaborate on pasting the little pictures where they should go on the timeline. In this example, you can’t see any sentences, of course, but they would appear on each child’s drawing.

Using images to teach prepositions of time

Share with the class

Once all timelines, illustrations, and sentences are completed, and the whole poster is completed, give each group time to share what they did with the class. The process of creating the timeline will make prepositions unforgettable. To follow up this learning activity, as you go through your day, reinforce prepositions of time by writing them on the board for the children to see.

“AFTER math, we will line up for PE.” “BEFORE art, we need to be sure our bags are packed.” Etc. You wouldn’t need to write the whole sentence on the board, rather, just write the preposition and its accompanying event. I would be consistent in how you identify each. You don’t have to use all caps and bold; you could instead use colors to code each word. 

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