Prepositions are complicated for even native English speakers to use correctly, and we know that constant reinforcement with examples is the only way to master correct usage.
ESL/EFL students get tired of the same activities over and over again, however (as do we teachers). Try making the concepts special by connecting them to a special day. What better day to do so than Valentine’s Day! The cultural peculiarity of Valentine’s Day insists on practicing communication – on forming perfect expressions of emotion. For those expressions, we need to use prepositions masterfully. Here are 10 ways to use Valentine’s Day traditions to practice preposition use with your class.
Combine Prepositions and St. Valentine’s Day for Your Student Benefit
Sonnets are particularly about love and unique to the English language. The specificity of 14 lines and exact syllable use requires detailed attention to preposition use! Shakespeare might be too difficult for your students, but you can find an example from another writer easily on sites such as http://sonnets.org/. Have students circle all of the prepositions and discuss.
Ask students to make and write four different valentines that they actually plan to give to loved ones (or classmates), using expressions of “for” to show gratitude to people they care about, like “I love you, mom, for your fantastic dinners and for your strength”.
Buy a bag of NECCO conversation hearts, or whatever knockoff candy is available with valentine expressions. Give each student 10 candies and have them write out their phrases, decode if necessary, and circle the prepositions. At least 3 will use prepositions or prepositional words, like “EZ 2 Love” and “Table 4 2”.
Write out amorous expressions using prepositions, like “your smile is the light of this world”, on paper cut out arrows. Put them in a vase or other quiver receptacle, and “shoot” them at students at the beginning of class. Have them one by one read their arrows and pick the prepositions out of the sentence.
Ask students to write a short statement (two or three lines) to woo their favorite pop star crush. They should then read them in front of the class, and students can vote on who wooed the best! Have a prize for the woo winner.
Show a classic Valentine’s Day movie scene, like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks on the Empire State Building in New York City in Sleepless in Seattle, or something younger for teens. Ask students to record as many prepositions as they can that they catch in the dialogue, and then check for correctness.
Prepare cards with the names of professionals for which students would seek common services, like doctor and teacher, and place in a box. Ask students to pick a professional at the beginning of the activity, and tell them to write a secret valentine note professing their imaginary love for that person (or admiration if they are uncomfortable with love). The note needs to have at least three different prepositional phrases. Have students read their notes and ask classmates to identify the phrases.
Find the lyrics to a classic or fun love song and give a copy to each student, like Friday I’m in Love by the Cure. Play the song, and ask students to circle the prepositional phrases. Discuss afterwards! You can then task them with a homework assignment to pick another song they hear on the radio in English often and write down as many prepositional phrases as they can.
Ask students to pick a city to which they would take their boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse if they could for a romantic meal. They should prepare a statement for where and what kind of food using “to”. Give an example such as “I would go to Japan to eat sushi”. This is a great activity for beginners/intermediates to differentiate prepositional “to” and infinitive “to”.
Love Gone Wrong
Try a prepositional venting session about how love is awful. Ask students to write down the five worst things about their ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend, or think of a friend’s ex that did him terribly wrong, using “because of” or “for”. “I hate him because of his ugly car.” “She was terrible for treating me bad.” Have them read the complaints, and pick one or two from each student to write on the board and deconstruct.
Prepositions are challenging to understand, and we as teachers need to constantly think of new ways to integrate them into classes to overcome that challenge!
Try making prepositions interesting by connecting them with the most engaging concept in the world across any culture and time zone – love, as invoked by St. Valentine.