I am having a week where everything feels hard (and it’s only Tuesday). Deciding what activities to do, planning enough for our 90-minute block schedule, and just sitting down to tackle the pile of grading has gotten really hard. And then there’s the elephant in the room: straddling the moat between grammar-driven and proficiency models of curriculum is really hard. I keep finding myself asking, Why am I even doing this?
(Note: I wrote that paragraph a week ago. It’s Tuesday again, and things are still hard.)
I’ve begun teaching conjugation this week. I know direct grammar instruction is out of style, but I have reasons (departmental colleagues who will teach many of my babies in Spanish 2 and 3), so I’m going to write about how I’m trying to teach grammar better – specifically those conjugations and verb paradigms they will NEED to have mastered to be successful in Spanish 2 at my school.
Step 1: Preview 3rd person singular and plural forms with Soy yo.
Have you seen this video? I love this song so much!
I also love every resource Kara Jacobs has ever published, and her Soy yo activities are no exception. At the link above, she has activities centered around the story of the video: The girl likes her hair. She rides a bike. The two mean girls don’t like her. The girl plays her flute. The mean girls don’t like the music and leave. The girl dances. The girl enters a basketball court. She steals the ball and plays. The boys look at her. The girl leaves. The girl sees boys who are dancing. The girl looks at the boys. The boys look at the girl. The girl dances. The girl leaves with her father.
This story came at a great time for me – finishing up Me gusta + Infinitives, so the vocab and reps of le gusta/les gusta was perfect. What was also perfect was how this song gave a great opportunity to preview 3rd person singular and plural verb forms. La chica juega or juegan al básquetbol? Insert pop-up grammar about how n makes a verb plural.
Step 2: Teach conjugations, but not the whole paradigm at once, keep it visual, and save pronouns for later
My grad school professor, Dr. Barry, taught us the Lee and VanPatten method: teach grammar through comprehensible input, and only teach 1 concept at a time. By one concept, she mean just 3rd person singular verb forms, not all six boxes on the present tense chart. I felt like they could handle more, so we’ve been working mostly on 3rd person singular and plural forms, as well as a little bit of 1st person singular. For the Realidades readers, I’m teaching the vocabulary in chapter 2B – things in the classroom and prepositions of location with the verb estar. Almost everything we practice with is visual, either based on a picture or our own classroom. I’m asking questions like, El reloj está o están? Los libros está o están? The singularity or plurality of the subject is something visual, not just an s at the end o the word on paper they have to imagine. So we transfer from there to talking about los chicos, las chicas, los estudiantes, la profesora. We are using a few forms of estar, as well as some of those What do you like to do? verbs from the chapter 1a vocabulary.
In the past, I have taught conjugations with pronouns (yo, tú, él, ella, etc) and then sprinkled nouns and proper nouns later. Some students got it, some were totally thrown off. I would also always start with people as subjects, and kids would be totally confused when they got a sentence in chapter three like Las uvas ____ buenas. So I decided to start teaching verb forms with nouns first, and then add in the pronouns when they were comfortable talking about las banderas, el reloj, la profesora, mi amigo.
Step 3: Sprinkle in some pronouns once they’ve got the singular/plural thing down. Keep it visual.
My students have seen most of the singular pronouns already in various activities and readings. So we started with a matching activity I printed off from Quizlet. I wanted to see how much they could figure out on their own, and also see if they could make the jump from Usted to Ustedes and from ella to ellas. They did pretty well, and we went over it afterwards and talked about the pictures (talking TO someone vs. talking ABOUT them). Next, still keeping my focus on 3rd person verb forms, we did this page in our notebook:
First, we labeled each picture to the side with él, ella, ellos, or ellas. Then, I gave them an infinitive bank and asked them to to label each picture with the correct form of the verb. I was really impressed with how many students got the juega and duerme forms correct – they have seen it enough times in class (especially juega from the Soy yo activities), and they just knew it without needing an explanation about stem changers and boot verbs.
Step 4: Continue to practice, and add in the rest of the forms slowly, visually, and in context. Give lots and lots of input.
I really don’t like teaching conjugation explicitly, as it necessitates so much time spent on grammar explanations in English (NOT engaging) and so often still results in frustrated and confused students. I am quite happy with how my students are doing so far with these re-paced lesson plans.In the next week or so, I want to figure out some more stories to tell my students to model and contextualize the remaining forms (2nd person and 1st person plural). I’m not super comfortable with storytelling or TPRS, so this is hard for me, but I think a bit of teacher-led input/storytelling along with lots of supported reading input will be a big step forward.
I’m not as good as I want to be yet. But I´m better than I used to be.