How to Use One of the Best Hacks to Teach Prepositions in Speech Therapy!

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You guys!  I’m going to let you in on my best-kept secret for teaching prepositions during speech therapy for young children!  I inherited this little hack from the speech/language pathologist that I student taught for many years ago.  When I say that I inherited it, that is literally what happened.  In 1997, I student taught for an amazing SLP named Peggi.  She taught me so much about speech therapy and even more important, she introduced me to strategies for working with young children with autism.  She was the best mentor!  After student teaching, I got my first job in Wisconsin, where I stayed for 12 years before accepting a position across the river in Minnesota.  Then, I moved out to Colorado for a year.  My dad got sick with myelofibrosis, so I moved back to be closer to him.  Right at the time I was thinking of moving back, guess who called me?  Peggi the awesome SLP!  She said, “Tara, I’m retiring and I really want you to apply to take my position”.  I did and the rest is history!  I’ve been at the early childhood level in Stillwater, Minnesota ever since.  So, when I took over for Peggi, she left me with the gift of the box she used for teaching prepositions during her speech therapy sessions.  The unique thing about this box is that it was altered to add a couple of “legs” that allow you to easily put objects under the box!  In the picture below you will see what I mean.  It’s genius!




  • Shoebox with a cover that is attached on one side

  • Two wood blocks 

  • Gorilla glue or a hot glue gun

  • Decorative contact paper



  •  Glue the wood blocks under the ends of the box

  •  After the glue is dry, use the decorative contact paper to make it look pretty



When you start using objects with the prepositions box, remember that you are teaching a pretty abstract concept and that it will take time.  If your student isn’t showing any understanding of “in”, “on” or “under”, start there.   Since it can be a difficult skill to teach, start with using real pictures of where you want the object placed on the box.  You can take your own pictures for this (see example below).  When you give the direction, pair the visual cue with your verbal cue “put the ball on the box”.  Then, you can guide their hand with a full or partial physical cue to place it in the correct location.  Eventually, you will be able to give the verbal direction and show the real picture and they will be able to essentially “match” where the object is by looking at the picture. 

The next step is to use visual symbols (click here for your free set) instead of real pictures.  This will help with generalization and fade out the exact matching used in the real picture.  With these, you can vary the objects and your student won’t get stuck on having a specific object in the picture.  Be sure to continue to take data.  You can use the free datasheet I have for you!


Now it is time to work on placing the objects in the correct location given the verbal cue only.  Take data, because progress may be slow and you may need to track if you need to step back and give a partial physical cue.  But, when you take data you can see the small baby steps to forward progress! 


You’ve done all this work to help your student understand prepositional concepts, so now it is time to add the expressive skill in!  How you approach this will depend on your student’s level of verbal skills.  If they are able to say short phrases, you could try that by placing the object on the box and saying “where is the ball?” and see if they can say “on the box”.  If their verbal abilities are limited right now, you can use my free sentence strips to build the sentence and point to each picture.  They may verbally approximate some words while they are pointing, which is awesome!


I have a few additional tips about using the prepositions box for speech therapy.  Some kids need a non-preferred object and some need a motivating object.  Also, this approach may start out very literally for children…they will place the object exactly like it looks in the picture (or throw it to the back for “behind”) 🙂  I also have a tip for storage.  You can store all of the visual supports, sentence strips, and objects inside the box!  It makes for easy access for everyone using it with students.



Once your student is able to place objects in different locations using the box, you can move beyond the box and see if they can identify those spatial concepts in pictures.  This is taught much like the vocabulary skills I talked about in a blog post a couple of weeks ago.  Place 3 pictures on the table and say “give one the one that is under”.  Take data and continue to introduce a variety of pictures to ensure generalization of this skill.  You can also use a picture scene that addresses these prepositions.  Then, move on to the expressive labeling of these prepositional concepts.

Preposition Scene Mat

Another way to generalize is to use other toys or 3D objects to practice the prepositions speech therapy in a fun, hands-on activities.  You can use toys you already have available, such as a dollhouse or farm toy.  I’ve also made simple activities where you can glue the “barn” on a kleenex box to use to target prepositions (see photo below).


If you are looking for more preposition activities for your little learners, check these out!

Farm Themed Prepositions
Pet Themed Prepositions
Winter Themed Prepositions

Additional Resources & Trainings:

Click here to watch the Facebook Live Mini-Training titled “WH Questions For Speech Therapy – 3 Tips To Help”.

Click here to watch the Facebook Live Mini-Training titled “How To Target Vocabulary Goals For Speech Therapy”.

Click here to watch the Facebook Live Mini-Training titled “7 Steps To Teaching One Step Directions”.

Also available for FREE: “The Ultimate Guide for Targeting Language Skills in Young Children with Autism”. Sign up HERE to receive your guide!


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