Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Simple Way to Practice Conjugating Verbs

My children have been speaking in Spanish their whole lives, but they still have a lot to learn when it comes to grammar.  Grammar, after all, is the building block of a language.  Just like mathematics, it is easier to construct and express complex ideas when you have a strong foundation.

My eldest son began attending a new Spanish school this year that is run by the Spanish Ministry of Education.  The curriculum is fantastic and he is learning so much!

A few weeks ago, he was introduced to conjugating verbs in the preterite.  For example:

Yo estuve en casa ayer. 
Ella tuvo tres galletas en la mano.

While he understands this perfectly, when my son speaks in the past, he tends to use another form (not always grammatically correct!):

Yo he estado en casa ayer.
Ella ha tenido tres galletas en la mano.

The test date was closing in, so we started to study.

One of my favorite ways to study verbs is SO SIMPLE.  All you need are notecards and a sharpie (paper and pencil are optional).

On each of the notecards, write a subject:  Yo, Tú, Él, Ella, etc.  If you study Vosotros / Vosotras, include it.  If you don't, leave it out.  Put these notecards in one pile.

On the next pile of notecards, write the infinitive of the verbs you are studying (one per card).  If you'd like, you can translate them into your mother tongue or write a "hint" (i.e. stem changer, irregular, etc) on the back of the cards.

If the student is new to conjugating verbs in a formal way, I like to have them practice organizing the subject cards like this:

We discussed how these cards represent the subject of the sentence.  They can be arranged in a logical way:

The first column refers to one person, while the second column refers to more than one person.

The first row is called "1st person":  Yo + 1 more person = Nosotros.
Tú and Vosotros is called "2nd person": Tú + 1 more person = Vosotros.
The last row is "3rd person":  Él + 1 more person = Ellos, etc.

My son and I also had a good discussion about tú vs. usted and how Spain is the only country that uses vosotros.  We don't use vos in our household, but now would be a good time to bring it up.

After the student is feeling comfortable with the subjects, it's time to move on to the verbs.

Shuffle the cards and line them up with the pile of subjects next to the infinitives.

Use the cards to trigger sentences.  I had my son write the conjugations as he was working on spelling, but I often use this technique with students to practice their oral skills "making interesting sentences".

This notecard method can be used for all verb tenses and is extremely portable!  You can throw a few notecards in your backpack or pocket and practice for a few minutes at a time.

Good luck and happy conjugating!

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