How Do You Strategically Teach Positional Words to Preschoolers?

Have you ever sat down and wondered how do you strategically teach positional words and location concepts to the preschoolers you see in speech therapy?

How to teach positional words in speech therapy

If you have read many of my posts, you know they are riddled with confessions. I share these confessions because I want to show you my journey in a transparent and honest way. I also hope that when I share my mistakes, imperfections, and immaturity you will find relatability and see growth.

What is today’s confession? If you couldn’t guess from the intro it is all about teaching location words in a strategic way. You see, I used to be guilty of just jumping straight into drills and not actually teaching skills. This was frustrating for me and my students. It made us both feel like failures.

When you just drill, drill, drill you aren’t TEACHING a skill. You are just kind of hoping that your students will absorb it through multiple trials. Guess what? For our students, it doesn’t usually work that way. They need explicit teaching and strategic scaffolding to be successful.

So, how do you strategically teach location words and positional concepts to your preschoolers?

I have several activities that I do in a specific order. They increase in difficulty from the most concrete to more abstract. You can stay in each level as long as your student needs to feel successful. But, from my personal experience, I really wouldn’t recommend jumping around too much when you are just starting to teach these skills.

Before you start: Pick a few location words you need to practice. If you are just starting out, I recommend on, under, and in. These are the most concrete and are usually the earliest emerging of the prepositions. Get your visuals ready. Are you using signs, pictures, or something else? After you get set up, take about 3-5 minutes to pre-teach the visuals to your students.

Activity #1: Gross Motor Location Words

How to teach location words in speech therapy

You Will Need: A box big enough for a child to sit, under, and on. The recycle bins most classrooms have work great for this!

How to Do It: First, you should use the box and the visuals to model each location word for the student. That’s right friend. You will be climbing on, in, and under that recycle bin. Your student will probably be super eager to hop in that box, so once they have seen you do it, let them have at it! I first give the direction for the student to follow (i.e. Get under the box). This will target their ability to receptively comprehend the location word. Show your visuals each time you give the directions.

Once they are in the right spot, I also ALWAYS model the question “Where are you?”. Even if this skill is too advanced, it gives the student the opportunity to practice and be exposed to the expressive component of this task. If the student can’t answer the question yet, I just model the answer for him/her.

By having the student manipulate and move on, in, and under the box, it helps them feel and connect the location word. This is the most concrete way I have found to teach this skill.

Activity #2: Big Box + Manipulatives

How to Do It: You are going to need to hang on to that recycle bin or big box a little bit longer. Once your student has a good feel for manipulating their own body and the box, we can make it a little more challenging. We do this by having the student manipulate an object and that big box they are familiar with. I prefer doing this with larger objects. Again, pair the verbal direction with your visuals and target both the receptive and expressive components. If you are lucky, you may even be able to get through Activity #1 and Activity #2 in the same session!

Activity #3: Little Box + Manipulatives

Teaching prepositional concepts to preschoolers

How to Do It: Find a small container with a lid. I prefer clear containers because it helps the student see inside the box. Continue on like you did in the previous activity. However, this time, since the container is different, the task is slightly more challenging. Do you see what we are doing here?  Keep on pairing the verbal direction with your visuals and target both the receptive and expressive components. Begin to fade cues as you can.

Activity #4: Hiding Objects Around the Room

How to Do It: As the title implies, you are going to be hiding objects around the room. This is so easy to turn into a hide-and-seek type game and kids LOVE it. However, this is slightly less structured than the boxes, so it becomes a little more challenging. You can keep doing this activity for as long as you want. Use the visuals as much as needed. Try and remember to target both the expressive and receptive components.

What about worksheet-type tasks that use paper, cutting, and gluing?

I am so glad you asked! In all honesty-I don’t like them. I wait and introduce worksheet tasks until my student is able to do these other functional activities. I find the cutting and glueing to be more abstract and difficult. Worksheets are great for reviewing and making things more challenging, but I would not use these activities during the teaching phase.  

Ok folks! That is going to wrap up today’s post. Thanks for hanging out with me! Drop a comment if you learned something new about teaching positional words to the preschoolers on your caseload! Also, if you liked my style and want to learn how to strategically teach other speech therapy skills be sure and check out these posts or my YouTube channel!  

One more quick thing!

Do your students love to move as much as mine do? Yes???

Then your students will love this calendar with 21 FREE movement activities and you will love having 21 sessions planned for you!

If you and your students are like me and my students, these gross motor activities are going to be a huge hit in your speech room!

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