Playing with Prepositions of Place

Transform the way you teach prepositions of place with Harry the Hiker, the age-friendly, easy-to-understand model.

By Stef Durr

Young girl hiking

Grammar doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, the kids in my class have a pretty good time learning about parts of speech, especially prepositions. Prepositions are easy to teach; just follow this quick lesson geared toward middle schoolers, or modify the content to make it more accessible for a younger or older set. 

Step One: Look at a Preposition

You have the option of defining the part of speech right away, or simply showing the class a chart that details some of the 150-plus prepositions that currently exist in the English language. I generally provide my class with a chart and give them this basic explanation: a preposition is anywhere a mouse can go. To show students that they’re already familiar with prepositions, them quickly read through the chart, placing an X next to the words they’ve heard before.

Step Two: Create Example Sentences

Using the chart, encourage your class to create at least three sentences using different prepositions. If your class contains English language learners, consider addressing similar words like in and on, as these are easily confused. In a popcorn style, have individuals share five to ten examples. Then, put the sentences aside. 

Step Three: Introduce Harry the Hiker 

I created Harry the Hiker the first time I had to teach prepositions. Since our school was close to hiking trails, this wilderness man was more accessible to my students than illustrating prepositions with a mouse cut-out (which could also be done).

Prepare for the introduction by downloading the Harry, and printing his environment. He lives deep in the forest. The picture includes a mountain, bridge, and some trees (this is a very simple drawing; feel free to show off your artistic talents with a drawing of your own). Harry can explore the various areas, moving on top of, in, out, through etc. To start, remind your class that a preposition is anywhere a mouse can go, or anywhere that Harry the Hiker can go! Use a document camera, projector, or interactive whiteboard to effectively illustrate this activity.

Guiding the Harry cutout on the picture of his environment, give the class an example sentence that details what he could do. 

Example: Harry walks around the flowers. He sits on the grass. He walks beyond the trees. He skips over the bridge. (Push Harry around so that he’s illustrating the sentences you’re saying.)

The kids catch on quickly. Select a handful of learners to come up to the front, taking turns moving the Harry figure around the page as requested by the remainder of the class. Although this step can be fun, it doesn’t need to take up more than five or so minutes. 

Step Four: Quick Assessment 

This fourth step is optional and dependent upon time available. Have everyone stand up. Next, instruct them to follow your commands. It's like a big game of Simon Says. After everyone moves, call on individuals to identify the preposition in the example sentence. Kids love getting out of their seat, and it almost becomes a race to see who can follow the directions the fastest! 

Possible sentences to use: 

  • Everyone is sitting on their desks.
  • Everyone is standing with a partner.
  • Everyone has their hands in their pockets.
  • Everyone is as far away from the white board as possible.
  • Everyone is against the walls.
  • Everyone is across from each other in two straight lines.
  • Everyone is by the teacher’s desk.
  • Everyone is along the windows.
  • Everyone is under their desks.

And some funny ones to try if humor suits your classroom well:

  • Everyone is above the ceiling fan.
  • Everyone is across the floor.
  • Everyone is jumping up the walls.

Step Five: Put it into Practice

Now that your class knows the basic gist, see if they can identify the preposition in a basic exercise. Review the answers as a class, and then study the sentence structures. Ask these questions:

  • What part of speech generally comes before the preposition? Prepositions connect two nouns or nouns and pronouns, so one of these should appear before the preposition.
  • What part of speech comes after the prepositions? A noun or pronoun will generally follow a preposition.
  • Can a preposition end a sentence? Highly debated, it is no longer considered incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition. Check out this link for details. 

Then, write one of the sentences on the board, noting the part of speech of the words surrounding the preposition.

Example: The yoga instructor balanced her body backward over the exercise ball.

They’ve already identified over as the preposition. Ask them to identify the noun to the left of the preposition, covering the other side of the sentence with your hand or a piece of paper. This might require some coaching on your part, but they should be able to identify body as the key noun here. Then, cover the left side of the sentence, and have them identify the noun in the remaining section. They should easily recognize ball as the other noun. Have them identify the nouns or pronouns that are connected by prepositions in a few additional sentences on the worksheet. Since they’ve already identified the preposition for each sentence, they’re at a good starting point to complete this part independently.

Additional Practice Opportunities:

Picturing Prepositions  

Use pictures to create sentences with prepositions.

Prepositional Phrases

After mastering prepositions, look at prepositional phrases. 

Object of the Preposition 

What is the object of the preposition? Learners realize that one of the nouns surrounding the preposition actually has a special role: it’s the object of the preposition.