English Grammar Workshop: Prepositions

As part of my job as Peer Tutor for the UCL Union’s Writing and Language Support Programme, I’m expected to give some workshops on grammar and/or “British culture and conversation.” At the end of Term 1, we compiled a list of the most common mistakes made by the non-native English-speaking students who come to us for writing help — common mistakes include articles, prepositions, various verb form problems, punctuation, and sentence structure/phrasing and idiomatic expressions. This list gave us a good idea of what workshops we should put on in Term 2.

I started things off in January with a workshop called “‘In Between the Action’: At, In, On & Other Prepositions.” Using the classic School House Rock video, “Busy Prepositions,” we then identified prepositions and prepositional phrases before doing some activities to spot the students’ weaknesses and open a dialogue about tricky prepositional usage.

The lesson went well, though I spent too much time with “engage” activities and not enough on the “study” and “activate” segments of the lesson. (That’s what happens when you don’t teach in a classroom for almost a year! This was my first classroom-type lesson since I finished my CELTA course last April. It felt really good to teach a group of people again.)

Some great preposition-related questions the students had at the end included:

  • Why do we say “on the train” and “on the Tube” but “in the car”? Aren’t we also within/inside the train and Tube? Yes, this is one of the (many) exceptions to general rules in English.
  • Using for vs. since. The students had to correct sentences, and the sentence sparking this discussion was “She has lived there since 15 years.” Obviously, this should be corrected to “She has lived there for 15 years.” We talked about how for is used for a period of time, and since is used for specific dates or ages (“She has lived there since 1997″ or “since she was 15 years old”).
  • Using by vs. until. In the same fix-the-error activity, the students correctly changed “I can do it until tomorrow” to “I can do it by tomorrow.” We worked out that by is used for positive statements and to indicate that the task will be finished before “tomorrow.” Until, on the other hand, is usually used in negative statements to indicate that the task cannot be started before the time stated: “I cannot do it until tomorrow” means you will not do the task before tomorrow.
  • After vs. in“I’m going there after 10 minutes” should read “I’m going there in 10 minutes.” This is a tricky distinction that often trips up non-native English speakers. In in this situation refers to a period of time. You’d use after if the sentence referred to a specific time of day; for example, “I’m going there after 5pm.”
  • In a gap fill exercise, I received some questions about “the far end of the house.” I explained that here — and often in academic writing — of represents possession, as in “the house’s far end.”

It was a good workshop, and I think my five attendees got something out of it that will hopefully help them in their English writing and speaking. It was fun for me to be in front of a class again and connect with the students. I ended up having to cut a couple of activities because I spent too much time on the beginning of the lesson, but now I know what to work on for the next workshop.

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