Tutor Tips

A forum for SCLC members to share ideas

Prepositions of Time, In-On-At


Ah, i-love-prepositionsprepositions! They are used more frequently than any other individual words in English. Yet we often avoid teaching them because they are difficult — or downright boring. And with about 150 of them, many with more than one meaning, where do we start?

Grammar books suggest dividing them into 3 sections: prepositions of time, place and movement.

Microsoft Word - Table.jpg

Okay let’s begin with time, and select three of the little rascals: in, on and at. This chart shows the rules:

Giving students a list of examples falls in the “boring” category. Try to liven things up a bit with a little action, a little involvement.

An excellent exercise is to play In-On-At-Dominoes. See the activity, complete with a downloadable template of the dominoes, at Teach-This.Com.domino-1

Another activity is to make a bunch of cards— half with time expressions such as 9 o’clock, Saturday, February, etc. Put these in a pile on the table. The others have phrases such as School starts . . ., I wash the car . . ., Valentine’s Day is . . . , etc.  Pass several of these out to each student. Pick up a card from the table and ask students to show a card with an appropriate phrase. They must add the correct preposition. The student who places the most cards accurately wins the game and gets a little prize.

A simple, no-props, exercise is to ask the students “when” questions: When do you eat breakfast?, When is Christmas?, etc. Students must respond with a complete sentence, using at, on or in; e.g., “Christmas is in December.” To make it a little more challenging, ask the questions in the past tense; e.g.,  “When did you eat breakfast?”

Watch for a future blog with prepositions of place: in, on, and at.

Do you have a method for teaching time or other prepositions? Please leave a comment and share it with your fellow tutors.



3 thoughts on “Prepositions of Time, In-On-At

  1. Wonderful article and ideas, Jerry! I like how you explained things in a concise and clear way, making the presentation of prepositions much more palatable. Very helpful!
    Thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I printed out the board game, but ignored the preposition cards. Use dice or a spinner and then just have the student ask.the question using the correct preposition.


  3. Thank you, Linda and Erika! I do encourage everyone to check out the Teach-This website. It has some great ESL activities and worksheets, not only for prepositions, but for all aspects of language learning.


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