Games for Teaching Prepositional Phrases in Middle School

Grammar games make learning fun.

Learning parts of speech is necessary, but it does not have to be boring. Grammar games reinforce a particular language feature, such as prepositional phrases, without putting students to sleep. Middle school students actually look forward to grammar lessons when learning involves playing games that require thinking on the spot, racing the clock, interacting and performing.

1 Knock Once

After introducing prepositional phrases, have students show what they know. Read a passage out loud and instruct students to knock once on their desks when they hear a prepositional phrase. For a quieter version, distribute copies of a reading and have students work in small groups to underline all the prepositional phrases. The group that finds the most wins. Ernest Hemingway’s "Hills like White Elephants" is loaded with prepositional phrases. Text of Hemingway’s opening paragraph, which contains 22 prepositional phrases, can be found online at the Garden of Phrases web site.

2 Sentence Wars

Working in teams, students are provided lists of 10 prepositions ("beyond," "for," "under") and 10 noun phrases ("these cats," "intelligence," "my personal wealth," "an apple pie"). When the timer starts, teams must use all words on the lists to create 10 complete sentences that contain prepositional phrases. The first team to write their correct sentences on the board wins. Note: The entire class can work from the same lists, or each team can draw 10 prepositions and 10 noun phrases out of a hat.

3 Weave a Tale

For a fun holiday or any day game, have students sit in a circle and create a story together. The teacher begins the story. Around Halloween, a story might start, “Two friends went for a walk under a full moon on Halloween night..." Have students continue the story as it goes around the circle. Every student must advance the story by contributing a line that includes at least one prepositional phrase. Prizes make the game more enticing: Students weave their tale while unrolling toilet paper with prizes tucked away at intervals. Their turn ends when they find a prize—-a spider ring, a wrapped gummy worm, a plastic bug—and have advanced the plot while including a prepositional phrase.

4 Bad Day Charades

Introduce this game by telling students that Clumsy Clem/Clementine is having a bad day and keeps getting hurt. Divide the class into two groups and have each group come up with six situations that answer the question: “How did Clumsy Clem(entine) get hurt?" Each clumsy action must include a prepositional phrase such as “ran into the wall,” “tripped on her/his shoelaces” or “slipped on a banana peel.” Students write their situations on slips of paper and fold them in half. They give their phrases to the other team, where one team member pantomimes each action for their own group to guess.

5 Prepositional Phrase Jeopardy

Have students make up question-and-answer sets in at least four categories with five questions each. Answers must include a prepositional phrase. For example, a “Shrek” category may include the answer “in Far Far Away” for the question “Where was Fiona's parents' castle?” A “nursery rhymes” category might have the answer “on a tuffet” for “Where did Little Miss Muffet sit?” Students also can choose weightier categories like science and geography.

6 Drama Time

Provide magazines for the class. Have students work in pairs or groups of three to clip an advertisement and create a short skit based on the picture. The dialogue for their skit must include at least 10 prepositional phrases. Students then act out their skits for the class.

7 Sing It

Distribute lyrics of a popular song that contains prepositional phrases. For example, “I’m a Believer” begins, “I thought love was only true IN FAIRY TALES, meant FOR SOMEONE ELSE but not FOR ME.” Have students replace all prepositional phrases with others that would make the song funny. Students can perform the new version of their song for the class. Instead of working with an assigned song, students could create their own rap, song or slam poetry that is rich in prepositional phrases.

Bonnie Denmark has devoted her professional life to intercultural, educational and accessibility issues. With an MA in linguistics and teacher certification in English, ESL and Spanish, she has worked as a computational linguist, educator and writer. Denmark has worked internationally as a language instructor, educational technology consultant and teacher trainer.