Suggestions for Teaching Prepositional Phrases and Compounding
The primary difficulty in getting students to recognize prepositional phrases is, of course, getting them to recognize prepositions. Some teachers may want to have students memorize a list of words that can function as prepositions, but memorization is not much fun and is really not necessary. Everyone who speaks English, including pre-schoolers, already has a perfectly good unconscious knowledge of prepositional phrases. Our objective, therefore, should simply be to make this unconscious knowledge conscious. There are several ways to do this.
Teaching Prepositional Phrases
One trick for helping students to recognize
many prepositions is to tell them to think of a house (or plane, or any
other thing) which something else can be "under," "over," "in," "by", etc.
For my college Freshmen, I developed CASA
(Computer Assisted Syntactic Analysis). This is now a public domain computer
program which you can download
and use if your students have access to a computer with Windows 3.1 or
higher. In the program, students click on words in randomly selected sentences
to place parentheses around prepositional phrases. When they think they
have found all the phrases in the sentence, they click on a "Check" button,
and the program checks their answers.
The first floor of CASA consists of four rooms, all devoted to prepositional phrases. In order to get a pass from one room to the next, students must get 25 phrases correct with only one mistake. If they make a second mistake, the program resets the counter to zero and they must continue working. The program, which includes instructional material, keeps track of their mistakes and their time on task. (Students can keep a data file on disk so that they can leave and come back to where they left off.) When they are finished, students can make a print-out to give to their teacher.
The sentences in CASA are from the writing of college Freshmen, and are therefore probably too advanced for primary or middle school students, but if you are working with high school or college students, the program can be VERY helpful. Before I created it, my students marked prepositional phrases on hand-outs. Many students did the homework in two or three minutes, handed it in, got a low grade, and then were lost when we moved on to subjects and verbs, and then to clauses. CASA changed that. The entire program consists of six rooms, and I grade on how many rooms the student has completed. If a student's print-out indicates that the student completed only three of the six, the student gets a fifty; if the student completed six of six, the student gets a 100, no matter how many mistakes the student made or how long the student took. (Depending on their previous education, etc., students take anywhere from 45 minutes to twelve hours to complete the six rooms.) Given these grading criteria, all but a few students complete all six rooms and, as a result, the majority of students can easily identify all the prepositional phrases as we move on to add subjects, verbs, etc.
I have considered making a new version of CASA, a version which would allow teachers to replace the original sentences with their own (or better, with those of their students).
Passages in which students are required to fill-in-the-blanks are also useful and interesting. Some teachers have an involuntary, knee-jerk, negative reaction to "fill-in-the-blanks" because they automatically think of those exericises in which students are required to fill the blanks with "was / were," "who / whom," etc. Here, however, "fill-in-the-blanks" simply means that the words in an original text that were in prepositional phrases have been replaced by blanks. In an elemntary form, these exercises can be used to help students learn to identify prepositions -- replace only the prepositions with blanks. It is much more interesting, however, to replace entire phrases and then to read some of the responses to the class.
In the course of identifying prepositional
phrases, students will run across phrases with compound objects ("with
Bill and Sherrie"). Students should be taught to recognize such phrases
by looking for meaning -- it doesn't mean ":with Bill," it means
"with Bill and Sherrie." This is, however, a good time to introduce
the concept of compounding, i.e., "Compounding is the joining of two
equal things (in this case the two objects of the preposition) by means
of a conjunction. It certainly doesn't hurt to tell students that the main
conjunctions used are "and," "or," and "but," even though, at this level,
the students will rarely find "but" used in this way. At this level, I
would not introduce the term "coordinating conjunction"; I would save that
until students have to distinguish coordinating from subordinating conjunctions.
Students may also discover "as well as," which KISS Grammar treats as the equivalent of "and." Students normally have little problem with this if they have been taught to look at grammar in relation to meaning -- "with Bill as well as Sherrie."