How to Teach Prepositions so Children will “Get it”


We received a comment from a teacher that her students were having a hard time grasping the concept of prepositions: what they are and how they are used. Sounds like a topic for which images and hands-on activities will help turn on those mental lights!

Some background on prepositions

What does the word mean?

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

The picture I get in my head when thinking of how prepositions relate to other words is of one word orbiting the other like the moon does the earth.

Types of prepositions

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.

Teaching prepositions

Teaching prepositions will be greatly enhanced if you design lessons that require the children to move, to manipulate objects, or to draw pictures showing what the sentence is saying – preferably all three.

Start with Location Prepositions as the easiest for children to act out, see the action of, and to understand.

What you will need:

  • Kids
  • Huge empty box
  • Cardboard strips with a few prepositions written on them: in, by, behind, beside, under
  • Small plastic objects such as animals or fruit, counting frogs… anything like that
  • Tiny containers that each toy will fit into
  • Paper and coloring materials

1. Procedure – act it out: 

If you have multiple children, write their names on popsicle sticks and put the sticks into a can. Without looking, choose one name. This will be your first guinea pig.

Choose one card and read the word. For example, BY.

Say, “Fred is BY the box.” Fred will act out what you are saying. He will go stand or sit by the box.

Choose another name and another card (for example, IN).

Say, Edith is IN the box.” Edith will respond by climbing in the box.

Continue this way until every child has had time to have a go at this exercise.

2. Follow-up – using representations:

Give each child a small toy and a small container.

This time, as you choose a word, say the sentence and the children will act out the meaning using their manipulatives.

Example, you say, “The toy is IN the box” or “The toy is BEHIND the box.”

3. Next – drawing:

Write the prepositions on your whiteboard or put the word cards into a pocket chart so the children can see them.

Tell them they will get to choose one of the words and draw a picture that uses an object and that word they chose. Show them an example. Say you choose UNDER as your word. Draw a simple picture on the board of your object UNDER the box.

Now that you have modeled what you want, let the children have time to create their own images.

Share – let each child show his drawing and tell the group about what he did.

teaching prepositions

4. Glue objects:

For a take-home art project, you can supply the children with construction paper, scissors, and glue and have them make their own project similar to the one in this illustration. Choose for yourself if you want the children to label their sections for themselves or if they are too young to do it for themselves. You could have just the preposition words in a word bank for them to copy as desired.

The round, red ball with the P on it is the little “moon” that is orbiting the orange box. Sometimes it is under the box, on the box, by it, behind it, and finally in the box.

how to teach prepositons

Please post your comments about how your children do (brilliantly, I am positive!) and even send us photos of their projects. We will post them for you!


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