Past Tense Spanish Conjugation Lesson Ideas
Learners need a lot of practice to master Spanish past tense verb conjugations. While we learn and teach basic past tense conjugation in novice-level Spanish classes, a real mastery of these verbs does not happen until we hit the advanced level.
Narrating in the past requires people to know and be able to use preterit verbs with a great degree of accuracy. This does not happen in the context of real communication until we can speak in well-developed paragraphs, which often happens much later than we would like. Think after some study abroad for a non-native speaker after years of formal study. In short- not so easy.
Learners need a lot of practice to get to this point of proficiency that is considered fluent my many. I have compiled these activities to learn Spanish Past tense (preterite) verb conjugations. Some are easy and low prep, others a bit more complicated. I have linked some read-made resources, too.
Two Truths and a Lie.
Beginning/A. I love to play a different version of this for low novice level that I call Is it true?
Whatever vocabulary I’m teaching them, I make a list of statements, some true and some false, that they can easily understand. For example, this person likes hamburgers, this person likes tacos, et cetera. They have to think about the people they know in their class and decide if it’s true or not.
We then go over it and we discuss all the statements. I find this naturally immersive CI. Students see these Spanish past tense verb conjugations in a context that is real to them. It is also an easy way to foster communication at all levels in any world language class.
Intermediate/B. I love the classic Two Truths and a Lie. Using Spanish past tense verb conjugations, students write out two truths and a lie. They share and we decide as a class is it true or not and why. We want to guess which one is the lie.
Advanced/C. I would divide the students up into different groups. The students are going to do a more extended version of their Two Truths and a Lie.
For example, if you had two groups, in one group, one student would have the lie and two of them would have true stories. In the other group, two students would lie and one would have a true story. Of course, the objective is to guess the lie. At the advanced level, there’s a great deal of conversation that goes on to figure out which stories are true and which are lies. This is great when you get into the preterit and imperfect as they have to clearly narrate using both and answer questions from the audience.
Verbs are hard to master. Students need LOTS of practice. Some ideas to liven up all of that rote practice:
Verb Puzzles. I share lots of freebies here:
Verb charts. Verb charts are one of my very favourite tools to practice and master verb conjugations. Essentially, students must master a grid of verbs. These verbs can be in any tense. I normally start with us filling it in after having some understanding of the grammar. These grids serve as a great tool for games and communicative activities. We then have a quiz where students have to fill out a blank grid. While I know this quiz is simply recall, it is a great step towards mastery of Spanish past tense verb conjugations, and students refer to them a lot during our communicative practice.
Here are some I have for learners of Spanish in this bundle here.
Dice. This is a fun way to get more Spanish past tense verb conjugation practice. Essentially, you take a group of subjects and verbs. Here is a quick visual with some regular and irregular verbs:
|1 yo||1 hablar|
|2 tú||2 comer|
|3 él/ella/Ud.||3 escribir|
|4 nosotros/nosotras||4 ser|
|5 vosotros/vosotras||5 ir|
|6 ellos/ellas/Uds.||6 tener|
Have students fill in the verbs in a chart you have made. I haven’t listed all of the possible combinations here, but you can if you want.
Student would fill in the correct Spanish past tense verb conjugations with any tense you choose.
After students have practiced these verbs, I like to use this tool to follow check understanding:
The online version is great for our current world situation.
I like to follow up with this great tool I got from Joe Dale of MFL Twitterati. Wheel of Names allows you to enter a group of names (or subjects and pronouns) to practice understanding of Spanish past tense verb conjugations.
Interviews. Engage with students in practice with comprehensible input and communicative activities. Here are some of my favorites here.
Flip Grid. This fun tool allows people to record videos and place them on a grid. Create a grid and have students post a short story about something in the past. Then play the videos and students take notes on each others’ presentations.
Whiteboards. White boards are a great investment for your classroom. I love small rectangular ones and use dry erase markers. They can be used for so many engaging language lessons. They work great for quick reviews and a fun check in to see what everybody knows at any point in the class.
I like to have students do these on scrap paper. This prevents any sharing of materials. This is a great substitute for a white board and can easily be help up to a camera in these activities.
Here are just a few ways that they can be used in your language lessons:
Beginning/A: Use these to practice verbs and vocab. Students can get much-needed practice conjugating Spanish past tense verbs. You instantly see when they hold up their board if they got it wrong or right. Vocabulary study can be something as fun as you say a word and they do a quick doodle on their board to show you they know what it means.
Intermediate/B: Following on the idea of drawing what you say, you can give much more detailed descriptions using vocabulary from whatever theme you’re studying and the students have to draw. For example, you might have them draw a table setting if you’re studying food or restaurants, or a house when you’re teaching that theme in your language lesson.
Advanced/C: Students can illustrate and create a chain story. Divide the students up into teams, large or small. Distribute some different themes or keywords. The students have to draw what’s on their paper and illustrate what’s happening and then as a group, they come together and create a story in the target language, which they then tell and share with the class. Sort of like Mad Libs- lots of fun and lots of laughter.
Totals or Auction. I love this fun, low-prep game.
Essentially, you start with a set of verbs. I like to use this game to sneak in some rote study from my text. I also like to use it to Every student gets a piece of paper (perfect to use recycling paper for this) and draws fake target language bills from a bag. They all start with this amount of money.
On their paper, they should write three columns. The first column is for their current total.
The second is for their response. The third is for their new total.
Students write an amount that they will “spend” on their response. They are then presented with their problem. This can be a question you ask about Spanish past tense verb conjugations, and they can use their book to respond. I also like to take these from errors they have made on their assignments. After a period of time, you provide and discuss the correct answers. They gain the amount they spent if they get it right, and deduct it if incorrect.
Darn. I love to write verb practice on each side of a card. You can do verbs and subjects, or target language/English. You then put them in an envelope with a bunch of cards where you write the equivalent of Darn! in your target language. Students draw from the envelope and keep cards of their correct answers. They pass when they get Darn! or an incorrect answer.
Feet. Trace and cut out feet. Write subjects on the feet. Students walk all over the feet and conjugate the verb you gave them.
Bubbles. You can have students conjugate a Spanish past tense verb while you blow bubbles. The objective is to get them all correct before all of the bubbles pop.
Presentations. Memorizing words and phrases helps us move from the Novice range to the Intermediate range where we can create with language. I love to have students do short presentations incorporating verbs. They might tell you 3 things they did last week, last month, etc. What I Ate requires students to take a paper plate, draw what they ate for a day and tell the class about it.
Hangman. I love this old standby. Write down verbs you want them to know on the board. Have them play Hangman to get the correct one. Great way to practice accuracy!
Guided Storyboard. I love these storyboards from Freeology.org. I have them tell me about a weekend in pictures. They then use the past to tell me what happened in the captions. You can do something similar on Make Comix.
Hear and Circle. Anytime I have structures that are really difficult, I love to do Hear and Circle.
Teaching most grammar through comprehensible input is an effective and easy way to begin any new tense or structure. I never lead with grammar. After presenting structures and you hear some production from the students, the time is perfect. When the students start asking how something is formed, you know they are ready for the mini-lesson.
With that said, I like to introduce my most complex structures this way. I find that advanced and upper-intermediate students need some direct translation. After a quick presentation, they can quickly master something difficult leading with this method.
Regardless of what anyone says about translations, I believe it makes a lot of the difficult grammar instruction we have seen in many books become relevant. I write phrases all over in the target language and English. I say one phrase in one language, and they circle the corresponding phrase in the target language. They get feedback right away. It is a tool I am happy to have for teaching a foreign language.
For these more advanced learners, I do longer sentences. They then have the handout to then create their own language. Some of mine here.
Tic-tac-toe. If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Rassias, he was an amazing leader in teaching foreign languages. He made learning fun and engaging. His activities with comprehensible input (a sort of early TPRS with lots of visuals) get people speaking fast and accurately.
I have students create their own text message conversations after reading about text abbreviations in Spanish. I have one conversation I created using Spanish past tense verb conjugations and the students answer questions.
Guided Essay. Narration is an advanced-level task and requires SO much practice to do at all, much less do well. I assign a guided essay where students must answer certain questions, and put it together in the form of an essay. I start with a few in the imperfect, and end with some in the preterite. They are forced to answer using the correct past tense verb conjugations.
Go Fish. This fun low-prep card game will get your students learning past tense verbs and have fun at the same time. Create pairs that you want them to learn on flash cards. I have had students do this, too. They then shuffle them up and play.
Hot Seat. Many actors thoroughly research their roles as soon as they get them. The goal is to completely understand the character’s history, background, tastes, family, major life events- anything one can imagine- so that the actor can make that character come to life.
Deeply understanding the culture and people of the language that you are learning is critical. There are some ways to incorporate this into language learning. Hot Seat is one of the best activities to do this. An actor gets a part, and then begins a deep study to really bring the character to life.
I love to assign a famous person from the target language culture to do this.
Hispanic Heritage Month Heroes. The students must research the answers to a group of questions you gave them We, of course, focus on using the past tense here. Students must memorize their answers. They go in the Hot Seat, where the class asks their questions.
If you teach Spanish, I have a number of resources to teach the past tense here: