Prepositions of time, like prepositions of place, can be challenging for students who have difficulty recognizing when to use certain words.
These little words are so important when speaking English because the difference between “He’ll go to Italy in March.” and “He’ll go to Italy at March.” is the difference between an intermediate and an advanced student. While English learners will not notice how incorrect their sentences sound, it is so apparent to native speakers who most likely do not even know the rules for when to use these words.
So, How Do I Teach Prepositions Of Time?
The warm up should focus on time. Students should get some practice telling the time and also talking about months and dates so that they are reminded of all this vocabulary before introducing the new topic. You can bring out the clock you used when teaching your students time or just draw clock faces on the board to give them some quick practice. You can also get the month vocabulary cards out and play a quick round or two of Go Fish. Whatever activities you did when introducing these topics can be repeated as long as your students found them enjoyable the first time around.
Introduce Prepositions of Place
Next introduce the words at, in, and on which should be the focus of this lesson. Your students have probably already used these words when talking about prepositions of place so there should not be any need for pronunciation practice. Write three sentences on the board and ask students which word correctly completes each sentence. This should give you an idea of how much your students already know about using these words. Briefly talk about how at is used when talking about precise times such as “3:00 PM’, in is used when talking about months, years, or other long periods of time for example “in July”, and on is used for sentences with days or dates like “on Tuesday” or “on March 6th”. It is all well and good to discuss these points however in addition to thinking about these rules students will need practice using prepositions of time in sentences.
Practice Prepositions of Time
Have students complete a worksheet to practice using prepositions of time. Perhaps in the first section students circle the correct word to complete the sentence and are given only two choices. In the second section have students fill in the blank. The third section could just have a list of phrases such as November, my birthday, and 7:15 PM that they have to choose the correct preposition for. This type of worksheet will help students by building up their confidence with an easy section at the beginning and then challenging them with a lot of phrases at the end.
Now that students have spent some time focusing on prepositions of time, remind them that these prepositions have other uses too. You will need three very short passages for this section. In the first passage delete at whenever it occurs without creating blanks and then tell students how many times at occurs in the text. Students can then insert the word wherever they think it has been deleted. Complete this activity for in and on as well. Students can complete this activity individually, in groups, or as a class. Review the answers as a class and then talk about when these words are used as prepositions of time and when they are used as something else.
You can easily play Fruit Basket in this lesson to give students the chance to make their own sentences. Have students arrange their chairs in a circle and then remove one so a student has to stand in the middle. The standing student should make a sentence, for instance, “My birthday is in July.” and all the students that have birthdays in July must change seats leaving a different student in the middle. If students have difficulty coming up with sentences, you can say one so that the game continues and does not come to a complete standstill for an extended period of time. Sentences such as “I start school at ~” should get everyone moving.
At the beginning of the next lesson, you can have students complete a few sentences using prepositions of time to briefly review the material. If students understand everything well, you can move on to the next topic, incorporate prepositions of time whenever possible, and have a solid review of this material before an exam.
Sometimes it’s the little words that really trip students up. Be sure to complete plenty of practice activities to ensure that students understand the appropriate use of each of these words.
See our collection of free prepositions of time worksheets.