Teaching grammar in context

​Level 4: Prepositional phrases


Are we there yet? by Alison Lester. Text and illustrations © Alison Lester, 2004. Published by Viking

Links to the Victorian Curriculum – English

English, Writing, Language: Expressing and developing ideas

Level 4: Understand that the meaning of sentences can be enriched through the use of noun groups/phrases and verb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases (VCELA292).

Links to the Victorian Curriculum – English as an Additional Language (EAL)

Pathway B

Reading and viewing

Level BL:

Level B1:

  • Read sentences that use basic subject, verb and object patterns, where content and vocabulary are familiar (VCEALL283)

Level B2:

  • Read texts that contain compound and complex sentences (VCEALL364)

Level B3:

  • Follow the meaning of complex sentence patterns (VCEALL443)


Level BL:

Level B1:

  • Use common verb forms correctly (VCEALL311)
  • Use a small range of simple descriptive phrases (VCEALL312)
  • Use simple sentences and phrases with correct subject–verb–object pattern (VCEALL310)

Level B2:

Level B3:

  • Maintain appropriate tense throughout a text (VCEALL470)
  • Write using extended descriptive phrases (VCEALL471)
  • Use a range of sentence structures appropriate to the text, with some errors (VCEALL469)

Lesson overview

This lesson focuses on how circumstantial details about an activity in a prepositional phrase enrich the meaning of sentences.

A prepositional phrase is a unit of meaning within a clause that begins with a preposition and is followed by a noun group. Prepositional phrases provide details about what’s happening such as when, where, how, why, with whom.

Learning Intention

We are learning about prepositional phrases.

Success Criteria:

  • I can find an example of a prepositional phrase of place
  • I can explain how the prepositional phrase of place tells the reader where the activity takes place.

Lesson sequence

  1. It is assumed that students have previously read the text Are we there yet? by Alison Lester for enjoyment and understanding. Ask students to recall some of the places the family visited. Reread selected sections of Are we there yet? This time ask students to listen carefully for the words which tell them where the family went and were involved in the different activities.
    Supporting EAL/D learners

    Many picture story books exist in other languages or as bilingual texts. Apart from reading the English version in class with the teacher, there is also the option of sending the book home to be read by parents in the student's home language or having a Multicultural Education Aide, parent classroom helpers or an older student read the story to the student in their home language. Below is a list of potential pre teaching activities to support EAL/D learners before this lesson:

    • Bring in an object (e.g. a stuffed animal) and a small box and then ask students to say where the animal is (e.g. behind the box). Then ask students to brainstorm different words they know to describe location. These might then be sorted into different categories, for example
      • prepositions of place: to, at, in
      • prepositions of position: next to, in, opposite
      • prepositional phrases: in the north, on the left, close to.
    • Ask students to write equivalents in their home language and explain how prepositions work in their language
    • Use flashcards with images that illustrate the preposition and ask students to say what the preposition is and why (checking for understanding)
    • Create an anchor chart of the key prepositions (with translations if possible) for the teacher and students to refer to
    • Students make their own preposition flashcards using a camera and other digital software
    • Act out prepositions or prepositional phrases and having their classmates guess the word or phrase
    • Learn the Auslan signs for prepositions and prepositional phrases to cue students when they are speaking.
  2. Introduce the learning intention and link to the examples recalled through the rereading. Ask questions to help the students to identify the prepositional phrases of place, for example:
    • Which words tell you where the family went snorkelling?
    • Where did the family go snorkelling?
    • Write some examples for all to see, highlighting the prepositional phrases.
  3. Explain the success criteria and what will be expected of students when they break into small groups. Have examples of sentences which contain prepositional phrases of place written on cards or a worksheet. Students read the sentences provided and highlight the prepositional phrases of place.  During the small group task, continue to support children to identify the prepositional phrases of place by asking questions as they read the sentences aloud in their group. Ask students to think about any patterns that they notice about the phrases such as ‘Where do they come in the sentence? What words do they begin with?’

    For example:
    • We went snorkelling at Turquoise Bay.
    • At Tunnel Creek we waded through an underground river.
    • We stood in the shallows at Monkey Mia to see the dolphins.
    • At Broome we ate crunchy fish and chips and watched the moon reflected in the mudflats of Roebuck Bay.
    • We flew over the Bungle Bungles in a helicopter without any doors.
    • We hiked between the round red domes of Kata Tjuta.
    • We floated down Katherine Gorge, below towering ochre cliffs.
    Supporting EAL/D learners
    Bilingual versions of the text will assist early learners of English to access the content and all learners to notice grammatical differences between English and their home language. For books in other languages or bilingual resources, see: Languages and Multicultural Education Resource Centre (LMERC)
  4. Return to the whole class group. Discuss any patterns noticed about the prepositional phrases. Highlight patterns as they are presented by the students or draw their attention to patterns, such as:
    • the phrases begin with words like ‘at’ or ‘through'
    • the phrases often come at the beginning of the sentence, but sometimes at other points in the sentence
    • many of the phrases provide the specific geographical location of the family as they travel around Australia
    • other examples provide more detail about a local place where an activity the family took part in happened
    • sometimes there is more than one prepositional phrase in the sentence. Explain that words such as ‘at’, ‘between’, ‘over’ are prepositions and phrases that begin with prepositions are called prepositional phrases. Explain that the prepositional phrases that they have highlighted are of place because they tell you where the activity takes place.
  5. After students have reported their initial patterns, ask them ‘Why do you think many of the sentences began with a prepositional phrase?’ Talk about how putting the location ‘up front’ helps the reader keep track of where the family is and the places where they do many activities. Sometimes, it makes more sense to put the prepositional phrase later in the sentence.

    Have a few of the sentences ready on card, this time with the main groups/components of the sentence written in a different colour.

    Cut up the sentence into the main parts: ‘What’s happening?’, ‘Who or what is involved?’ ‘Where is it happening?’ For example:
    • We/ went snorkelling/ at Turquoise Bay. Ask the students which part tells you where the activity is happening. Ask ‘Could we put ‘at Turquoise Bay’ in another place in the sentence?’  Model moving the prepositional phrase to another place in the sentence, e.g. At Tortoise Bay we went snorkelling.
  6. Model this with a few sentences. Discuss how this impacts on the sentence.
  7. Students work with a partner or small groups of 3. Provide students with copies of sentences on cards to cut into the main groups of the clause/sentence. Students manipulate the groups to see how the prepositional phrases might be relocated (or not) within the sentence.

  8. Return to the main group. Discuss and compare the ‘new’ arrangements of the sentences and review how prepositional phrases of place help us understand where activities take place.

  9. Revisit the success criteria. Students turn and talk with a partner to share an example of a prepositional phrase of place. Explain to their partner what information the prepositional phrase tells them about where the activity is located.

Going further

  1. Students look at their own narrative writing and consider how they might use prepositional phrases of place to give details about where an activity is taking place. Have the students identify one or two sentences in their writing where they might be able to add a prepositional phrase of place and share with their peers.
  2. Students can look for examples of prepositional phrases of place in other texts they read and use a ‘post it’ note to mark the phrase. Provide a time for the group to share phrases they have found.
  3. Return to Are we there yet? by Alison Lester. This time focus on prepositional phrases of time (when?) or manner (how?).
Supporting EAL/D learners to go further

Using a text innovation strategy, EAL/D students might produce a similar text but set it in their home country. Students creating and reading aloud their own book with illustrations may be an engaging activity for the EAL/D author and their audience.


Are we there yet? by Alison Lester. Text and illustrations © Alison Lester, 2004. Published by Viking

Swan, M., & Smith, B. (2001) (Eds.). Learner English: A teacher’s guide to interference and other problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.