Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Prepositions: Language's Little Helpers

Honest to God, if you asked me a few years ago what a preposition was, I would have said, It's some damn part of speech. No idea. I am clueless about the intricacies of direct objects, subjunctive clauses, dangling participles (although that one sounds dirty, if you ask me), impersonal pronouns in the subjective case and similar grammatical minutiae. At least, when one gives them names.

My personal theory is that in moving a great deal as a kid, which I did, I somehow managed to miss all the units on grammar and just arrived in time for literature. Oh, I vaguely remember writing out sentences and underlining nouns once and verbs twice, but I couldn't tell you why. And I've never diagrammed a sentence in my life. Unless you mean, draw a picture.

Still, I speak and write clearly, even beautifully, or so I've been told. That's because I've always read voraciously, and have usually read great writers--maybe it's easier to understand how a fine sentence works when you encounter it in the wild than when you try to reconstruct it in the laboratory. Or maybe it's just that the ear has become more finely tuned due to repetition.

All this is to preface my description of this week's Spoken English lesson at Youngil HS. Which is a review of prepositions. These are words, like in, on, at, under, beside, that lend temporal or spatial specificity to other words. In I'll meet you at 2 o'clock, "at" is a preposition. I hope.

The starter activity has the students draw a map of the route from home to school, then give verbal directions to a classmate. This follows up on what we've done the last two weeks. Next, they read aloud and fill in the blanks on a preposition review exercise I ripped from the internet and refined. Finally, I give them the base diagram below (which I whipped up in MS Paint):

Room with table diagram
They then add elements to the picture by drawing:
* There is a window opposite the door.
* There is a potted plant in the back right corner.
* There is a small dog under the table. Etc.
Nine things in all. They mostly like to draw. At least, they stay awake, it's less like pulling teeth to have them draw than speak a lot of English, and they've done something tangible at the end of class.

And we're reviewing prepositions, language's little helpers.


Andrew said...

Nice, I don't think they really teach grammar lessons like that to native speakers. You get the basics and the rest is just absorbed naturally.

That being said, when I was in grade school, we had a preposition song. It was sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy and was just an alphabetical list of prepositions.

Here are the lyrics if you want to sing: http://www.misscantillon.com/Preposition%20Song.htm

Tuttle said...

Cute; of course, first I'll have to teach them Yankee Doodle Dandy...

For some reason I started doing the Little Teapot song yesterday--well, because they have to draw a teapot *beside* the flower basket on the table.


Chris said...

Great post. I think it is so important for teachers to know everything (grammar wise) just incase their students ask. I have my masters in teaching English and felt diserviced by the lack of grammar classes at my campus.