Video tasks for prepositions of position
The unusual but surprisingly fun and effective combination of televisual images and words like “above” and “between”.
Video might not seem like the most obvious tool for teaching prepositions of position, thinking about how rare it is to hear actors actually say “The cat is on the mat” or “The knife is in the lake.” Actors’ scripts and instructions from directors are probably full of instructions with prepositions, however, and the same is probably even truer of the discussions of stuntmen, set designers etc. These kinds of visual elements are great practice for prepositions as the speed of the film means students have to produce them much more rapidly than in a more traditional pairwork activity such as a picture difference; and they can be forced to use more complex prepositions than they might in more strictly communicative activities. Because the dialogue isn’t necessary, most of the activities below work best with very visual and/or nearly silent videos such as Mr Bean and Pingu.
Especially with students who aren’t up to describing positions in real time, an obvious thing to do is to freeze the video at some point. You can ask students to come up with as many true sentences about that scene as they can (perhaps with each preposition only being allowed once each time you freeze the frame). Students can also be pre-warned about what they should look out for the next time the video is paused, e.g. “Next time tell me where Pingu is”, or shout out a sentence on their worksheet such as “Mr Bean puts the fish in the saucepan” if it is true at that point.
Tell me when these things happen
A list of sentences about what happens in the video (plus perhaps some which don’t) can also be used without freezing the video. Students keep scanning their worksheets as they watch the video and put up their hands or shout out the sentence whenever it is true. You’ll need to make sure the things on the worksheet are true and on screen for at least five seconds, or you could allow sentences any time while or after something appears on the screen (i.e. also after it has disappeared).
Is this next?
Students could also be told just one or a few things to look out for in the next minute or two of video, e.g. they know that question seven is coming next and should work out something before they put their hands up or shout out the answers. For example, they could be given pairs of sentences with typical prepositions of positions confusions like “The knife is on his neck”/“The knife is above his neck” or “She is waiting in front of the station”/“She is waiting opposite the station” and should shout out the one that turns out to be true.
Guess the preposition
Students could also try to guess the correct sentence before watching and then watch to check, for example filling the gaps in “She puts a saucepan _______ her skirt” and “The cat is hiding inside _______”. This can be done in sections, when the video is frozen just before the scene in question, after watching an introductory section of the video, or before the whole video is watched right through.
Back to the screen
Students not seeing what is going on can also be turned into a pairwork task. In each pair, students sit next to each other but with their chairs facing in opposite directions so that one can see the screen and the other cannot. The person who can see the screen describes what goes on, concentrating on where things are, so that their partner can put the events on their worksheet in order. The “blind” student can’t ask questions until the end of the video, and the other student can’t see the worksheet. The first team to get exactly the right order of events wins.
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.