Have you noticed your students have a hard time using prepositions of time correctly? Here is an activity idea that can be used as both an introduction to a lesson on prepositions of time and as a revision. What´s more, the very procedure of the activity can be easily adapted to other topics such as prepositions of place or regular verbs past form pronunciation.
The first thing you do is make a list of time expressions that use the most common prepositions: in, on and at. I usually include a list of expressions that do not use any preposition. You will end up with lists like these:
IN : the morning, the afternoon, the evening; 1977, March, etc.
ON: 28th July, weekends (US usage), Monday, Monday 22nd December, etc.
AT: the weekend (UK usage), night, the turn of the century, 6.00 o´clock, etc.
No Prep.: yesterday, yesterday morning, this morning, today, tomorrow, etc.
My lists usually have about 15 expressions in each category. Obviously, you will repeat some “similar” expressions, like “on Monday” but also “on Friday.” This is good practice because it will provide examples of “on + day of the week.”
Once you have your lists, cut out pieces of paper or card of ¼ A4 page. I use paper of different colours to bring a little bit of fun and “life” to the activity, but be careful not to use the same colour for one category so students are not given hints. Then, write the expressions on the cards, one at a time, without the prepositions, like this:
Make a deck of cards and shuffle them. Now you will need some “blutack” or similar and you are ready.
In class, divide the board into four spaces and write on top: IN, ON, AT, NO PREP. When I have a large class, say about 24, I also use the walls but instead of writing on the wall, I stick up a card. Next, distribute the cards, more than one each hopefully, to the students together with a piece of “blutack”. Ask them to stand up and stick the time expressions they got under the corresponding preposition. These will bring about some minutes of noisy activity while the students decide where to put their cards. Since they had gotten cards with expressions that belong in different prepositions they will cross paths with each other and laugh and smile and have a good time, they may even correct each other on the way and/ or ask their classmates for help when in doubt. All this is great, let it happen and encourage it if possible.
When they have finished and are sitting back in their places, go through the cards and put a cross next to the ones that are wrong. Then, ask for volunteers to change the marked cards to their correct place. Encourage students to come up even if the marked cards are not theirs. If there are still some incorrectly placed cards, repeat the cross marking until all the cards are in the correct area.
Now you may ask your students to look at the expressions on the board and come up with rules. They must deduce that IN goes with months, etc. provided you have given enough examples for them to notice. Afterwards you may want to do another type of exercise to reinforce/ use the expressions.
You may also adapt the same procedure for expressions of place, do vs make, pronunciation of regular past tenses, and any other grammar or vocabulary topic you want.
The advantages of this activity include the fact that it gives kinesthetic/ tactile students a chance to move about. It also provides an opportunity for visual learners to pick up concepts, they will see the rules “appear” in front of them on the board –you may use colours as suggested but also forms for the cards, etc. The rules are not given straightforward to the students but they will deduce them as the activity evolves. This makes it more memorable.
The activity provides variety and a moment of apparent relaxation as the students walk about and maybe joke with each other. When the teacher marks the incorrect cards, they are asked to rethink their grammar/ vocabulary and try their hand at another possible solution to the language problem. This is an example of the trial and error process present in language acquisition and one skill that every good language learner must develop.
In short, the activity lends itself useful and fun, easy to set up and valuable. Why not try it out and see what happens?