Number one for English language teachers

Prepositions relating to movement and position - tips and activities

Type: Reference material

Tips and activities to help you teach prepositions relating to movement and position.

Activity: Gestures

Mimes and gestures are an obvious first step to clarifying many prepositions of movement. Here are some possible actions and sentences you can use to clarify them.

  • towards – walk towards a student 'I’m walking towards [Alonso].'
  • through – walk through the door 'I’m walking through the door.'
  • through – mime that you are swimming the breaststroke; 'I’m swimming through the water.'
  • into – reach into your bag 'I’m putting my hand into my bag.'
  • across – mime that you are looking both ways, then crossing a busy street; 'I’m walking across the street.'
  • over – make a chopping motion above your head; 'It went over my head.'

Activity: Mime dictation

For this activity, you need to prepare a text that you can mime easily (that also contains several prepositions of movement). There is an example below. Delete the prepositions of movement and make copies of the text for the students. Do not give them the text yet. Read it once, making the movements yourself. Then ask them to stand up and do the movements with you as you read the text a second time. Repeat this process, getting them to say the text along with you a third time. Repeat the text with movement a fourth time with the students, but quicker. If the students (and you!) are up for it, do it a fifth and final time. Then hand out the text and ask the students to complete the gaps.

Sample text (a star* indicates where you need to mime an action and delete the preposition):

The robbery

The robber walked through* the doors. He looked around* the bank carefully before walking up* to the teller’s desk. The robber looked over* his shoulder nervously. He put his hand into* his pocket and pulled out* his gun. 'This is a robbery! Put the money in* an envelope and give it to me!' he said. The teller, terrified, pushed the money towards* the robber. The robber took the money and walked out* of the bank calmly. He walked across* the street and got into* the car where his friend was waiting.

Activity: Minimal pairs

Many of these prepositions can be highlighted through the use of minimal pair sentences. Here are some examples. Ask the students to try to explain the difference between the two sentences. They could translate them both into their own language and compare. Are there similar prepositional differences in their language?

What’s the difference between these two sentences?

  1. A. Jenny walked to London.
    B. Jenny walked towards London.
  2. A. He drove his car into the wall.
    B. He drove his car through the wall.
  3. A. The young couple walked along the river.
    B. The young couple walked across the river.
  4. A. The politician walked across the room to say hello to all the people.
    B. The politician walked around the room to say hello to all the people.

To make this task easier for the students, you could give them a follow-up sentence. They have to decide which sentence (A or B) goes best with the follow-up sentence. Here are follow-up sentences for the above examples.

  1. She was very tired when she arrived! (matches with A)
  2. He came out the other side and fortunately wasn’t hurt. (matches with B)
  3. There was no bridge. (matches with A)
  4. The people were in several different parts of the room. (matches with B)

You can make your own sentence examples.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I'm going to give a try to the mime dictation. Let's see what happens.

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  • i like the mime activity with the bank robber ...

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