Picture Perfect Prepositions

In October, I blogged about some of my students’ favorite preposition practice activities, Mousy Prepositions and More Preposition Fun. Today I’d like to share with you yet another fun, and free (utilizes common classroom supplies), preposition practice activity or assessment: Picture Perfect Prepositions, a scavenger hunt activity.

The goal of this activity is to assess students’ understanding of various prepositions. Most of our practice activities are very hands-on, requiring students to demonstrate their knowledge of prepositions, which is great. The problem lies in my having something concrete to assess. As I alluded to in my last post, Authentic Open Book Assessments?, I prefer to give open ended, even project based, assessments. If I can find a game, or activity based assessment, so much the better. This prepositions scavenger hunt is the perfect assessment in my opinion. It is very hands-on, provides the students opportunity to be creative, gives me an authentic and accurate assessment of their knowledge, is fun, and even results in a classroom display!

The teacher preparation of this activity is very fast. All I do is prepare a list of 5-10 prepositions that I want to assess. Occasionally I’ll give a list of 15-20 prepositions, and allow students to choose which to include in their final submission. I adjust the number of required words based on how much time we have in class to do the activity. After preparing my list, all I have to do is grab my box of old magazines and catalogs (anything with pictures that students can cut up; I keep a box in my basement and throw in anything that comes in the mail from magazines to Christmas toy catalogs, to advertisements), some glue sticksscissors, and white copy paper. Everything else is up to the students.

Students then hunt for, and cut out, pictures that represent each preposition, glue them onto the copy paper, and write a sentence that describes the picture using the target preposition. As you can see from the pictures, their grammar isn’t always perfect, and their sentences are often very simple, but it is clear they understand the prepositions.

Every student is different in how long he/she takes to complete this project, but on average it takes my high

beginner to low intermediate students about two 45 minute class periods to complete ten sentences (allowing time for students to get materials out, work, and clean up each day).

​I tell students to write their names on the back of the pictures (though they don’t always listen to that part of the directions), and after I record grades, I put the pictures up in our classroom for everyone to enjoy. While it may not be the prettiest of classroom displays, my administrators have always had positive things to say about the students’ work, and are generally impressed at the level of language they are able to produce. 

My students have always found scavenger hunts to be fun activities, and I am able to check my students’ mastery of many skills that would otherwise be relegated to boring worksheet-based assessments. Stay tuned, because on Thursday I’m going to share a similar activity we do with adjectives. Happy teaching, everyone!

More Preposition Fun

On Monday I shared with you one of the fun games that my students and I play to practice prepositions, Mousy Prepositions (paperdigital). Of course prepositions is not an easy topic and we practice it quite a bit, so we need more than one game. Today I’d like to share with you three other activities that my students particularly enjoy when learning prepositions: Going Buggy for Prepositions, Preposition Pictionary, and Lego Preposition Build.

Going Buggy for Prepositions
Going Buggy for Prepositions is an activity is based off of The Insect Game, which I read about in a book that I’ve long forgotten the title of. To play you will need plastic toy insects, a set of noun cards, and a set of preposition cards. The free download linked above, and via the button below, will give you noun and preposition cards you can print. I recommend printing the noun and preposition cards on a different colors of paper to make separating them easier. Place students in groups of 2-4 and give each a set of supplies (at least one insect and set of cards per group, but my students always want their own insects). On their turn, each student draws a noun card and a preposition card. The student must then make his/her insect demonstrate the chosen preposition with the selected noun. If he/she is able to do so, he/she gets a point. This game is not quite as exciting as those that follow, but it does get the students up and moving, which is generally a good thing.

Preposition Pictionary
I wish I had some great inspiration story to share with this game but, as is often the case, it was born out of desperation. There was some kind of problem in the building, nothing serious, but all students were told to remain in their current classrooms until further notice. Since we’d already been together for over an hour that day, the students quickly began to get restless. I wanted our time together to be productive in some way, but I didn’t want it to be boring. We’d been practicing prepositions, but had already played Going Buggy for Prepositions, and I was struggling to keep students engaged. One of the students started doodling on the board and another started trying to guess what she was drawing. Then it hit me, Prepositions Pictionary! I grabbed the prepositions cards from Going Buggy for Prepositions, quickly divided the students into two teams, and explained the basic rules of Pictionary to them. On a team’s turn, one person would come up, draw a preposition card and, without showing it to anyone but me, illustrate the preposition on the board. Their teammates would then have to try and guess the preposition being drawn. If they were successful before time ran out (I gave them 60 seconds), they got a point. If not, the other team got one chance to guess. They LOVED it! When the announcement came dismissing them to the next class they actually groaned aloud. From then on Preposition Pictionary was the game they begged to play when we had extra time. One enterprising group even revised the rules because there was a field trip and only three people were in attendance. They decided to play as individuals. If you guessed the preposition you got two points and the right to be the next illustrator. The illustrator whose illustration lead to the correct guess received one point.

Lego Preposition Build
Who doesn’t love Legos? I always kept some in my classroom and even my middle schoolers liked just sitting at a table (or on the floor) and building things while chatting quietly with a friend. Some might say they were wasting time, but I think it was a great brain break, and since they were usually talking in English, in an ESL classroom, it was good speaking practice. We also used the Legos in our math lessons (especially when learning fractions), but I always wanted to use them in a grammar lesson. Then one day I received an email with picture instructions for building some object out of Legos and it hit me: prepositions! 

That summer I looked for the best deal I could find on Legos and bought some extra (This Classic Set was the best deal I found, especially since I had the time to wait for a sale.).  I also saved and printed all of the building directions I could find, which ended up being 50 in total. I have uploaded the pdfs to a Google Drive folder and the button below this post will allow you to view the folder. You will want to either download the files you want, or save a copy to your own drive, to ensure continued access. By the time school rolled around that fall, I was ready to go.

The students partnered off and arranged themselves at tables around the room. I gave a bin of Legos to each set of four students and one of each pair received a set of picture instructions, which they were not to show their partner. The student with the instructions then told their partner which Legos to choose and how to arrange them to form the object in the picture. Since the picture instructions already had the process broken down into steps the student could concentrate on giving clear instructions without worrying about how the object was built. After the building phase was complete students compared the picture to the final product to see how they did. The next day (or the same day when I had a block schedule) the partners switched roles and completed the activity again, but with a new picture. The students loved it and practiced a lot more than just prepositions. The next year when some of my repeat students heard we were going to work on prepositions again they specifically asked to do this activity. 

Well, to quote the Looney Toons, “That’s all folks!” Those are my four best non-worksheet preposition practice activities. Unfortunately I’ve only managed to translate Mousy Prepositions to the digital world, but I’m still thinking about the others. If I get hit with inspiration, or discover a great resource, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, happy teaching!

Mousy Prepositions

Mousy Prepositions: Paper Version
Mousy Prepositions: Digital

I don’t remember a lot of specifics from  my seventh grade ELA class. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a good teacher, I had a great one (and one who had to endure not only me, but my two younger brothers as well, and still smiles when he sees us!). No, my teacher was not the problem, the problem was it was seventh grade and…well, you remember seventh grade! The long and the short of it is that seventh grade is not a good time of life, and one that is generally best left to the past. I do, however, remember one test in particular. The grammar topic was prepositions, and the test was to take a blank sheet of paper and write a list of all the prepositions in the English language, or at least the most common 30 or so (it sure felt like all of them!). In true middle school girl fashion I was panicked, convinced I’d fail, the world as I knew it would end, and my life would be over (see what I mean about a time best forgotten?). My mother very calmly looked at me and said, “Prepositions are easy. Just think of everything a mouse can do to a box.” That, among a few other famous mnemonic devices (I’ll forever remember the capitol of Nebraska because, according to my mother, “Lincoln had big knees, but he never went to Nebraska.”), became my academic salvation. I did pass my test, and to this day, prepositions, mice, and boxes are forever linked in my brain.

When I became and ESL teacher and had to teach prepositions, my students were whining and struggling, my mother’s mnemonic device was echoing in my ears, and I did what I always do when faced with a boring grammar concept that must be mastered: I created a game. Prepositions are visual and I wasn’t satisfied with simply making a board game with cards and tokens, I needed a mouse and a box! The mouse was relatively easy to obtain, they are plentiful and cheap in the pet section of any store. The box posed a bit more of a challenge as I needed something the mouse could be in, on, go through, etc. After thinking about it for awhile, I took an old shoe box and wrapped it in black bulletin board paper, being sure to wrap the lid separately. Then I cut a hole through each side of it, making a tunnel for my mouse to pass through. A quick game board and some cute preposition cards decorated with mouse clipart, and Mousy Prepositions was born. ​Students could draw a card, read the preposition, use the mouse and box to demonstrate the preposition, and (if correct) roll a number cube to advance on the board. My students loved it and my only challenge was keeping my pet cats away from the toy mice. 😀

Now that digital learning has become a necessity, I didn’t want to give up my fun game, so created a Digital Mousy Prepositions game as well. I simply turned the game board into an image file and inserted it onto a PowerPoint slide that I’d resized to 17×11 (see my earlier blog posts Alphabet Adjective Zig Zag and Too or Enough for more information on how I create my game boards). The clip art for the mice and boxes was easily obtained from Pixaby. The part that I had to think about was the prepositions. I really didn’t want my students having to click from slide to slide to “draw” a card, as they do in other games that utilize the game play script my husband wrote me. I wanted them to play the entire game on the slide that held the game board. The answer ended up being a custom prepositions script, again written by my husband, combined with the dice script he’d previously written. The resulting game was something students could play on a single slide, with minimal clicks. Take a look and see for yourself:

I owe a big thank you to both my seventh grade ELA teacher and my mother for inspiring these fun (and free) games. My students definitely think this is a much more enjoyable way to learn prepositions than endless pictures and worksheets with questions such as: “The ball is ____ the desk.” Stay tuned later this week for two other rodent-free fun (and free) ways my students and I practice prepositions.