Today we started one of my favorite units in my novice class: “when I was little…”. While this unit could definitely use some love in the culture department (working on that this year), it is a unit that interests students and keeps them engaged. Since the weather here in the mid-Atlantic has turned gorgeous, this is definitely a plus!
In a change of sequence from how I was taught–and was taught to teach–I introduce the concept of past tenses with the imperfect rather than the preterit. Why? It’s easy to use, and early success helps to keep the momentum going. It’s easy to compare and contrast with present tense within the framework of “when I was little” too. Finally, within this framework it helps to solidify the idea that imperfect is the tense that we use to express things that we used to do. That solid anchor helps so much when we move on to talk about the preterit!
Last week I asked students to list some of their favorite things from when they were kids–things like tv shows, movies, toys, foods, etc. I’ll incorporate their answers into our prompts and examples throughout the unit. They love to see their input coming back to them!
We started class with the Pollito Pío video and worksheet from Zachary Jones–always a fun way to begin class! Now that I had them laughing and had their attention, I gave each student a small tub of Play Doh and asked them to sculpt the answer to the question “¿Cuál animal era tu favorito cuando eras pequeño? (What was your favorite animal when you were little?), which was projected on the screen. After a couple of minutes, we worked our way how to answer the question…and oh, yeah, what does era mean? This was the first formal introduction to any past tense, and they just pick it up naturally. I modeled for them, then they practiced answering the question with their partners, and volunteers shared with the whole class.
My mom loves this unit too, because she got to help me prepare for the input phase. After Playdoh animals, I told them that we were going to talk about life “back in the day”–a great southern expression for exactly this topic! Thanks to Mom, I showed a series of slides like these:
(Yes, that’s me. Back in the day!!) Each slide had a photo and a simple caption in Spanish. There were several of me and my life, but also slides that compared technology like computers and cell phones–and even microwaves–from then v. now. I narrated and checked for understanding, but never really talked about “The Imperfect” along the way. I gave them a comprehension check true/false quiz at the end, but this was mostly to get them to read a little more in Spanish–the score didn’t count.
We clicked through these slides one more time, and I asked students to extract what they thought the rules for past tense might be. Some chose to use Play Doh to express their answers:
…while others chose more traditional means of recording their thoughts. Not bad, though, huh? We still hadn’t talked about the structure of any of the imperfect, and yet they were picking it up.
To close class, I showed them a second series of slides, this time with things they had chosen as their favorites. I asked them either/or questions like ¿Cuál cereal comías más: Cheerios o Lucky Charms?, assisted by photo prompts on the screen. I modeled answers for the first few, but they didn’t need that help as we progressed through the later questions.
Today’s success reinforces why I left my old ways of memorize-the-vocab-drill-the-grammar-and-hope-they-can-use-it behind. In less than an hour, students were using the imperfect appropriately, albeit in a limited fashion, were talking about their childhoods, and were excited about what is to come. They even asked if they could do a presentation like my introduction. Hmmm, sounds like an opportunity for some student choice projects!
The adventure is often a challenge, but it is also worth it. Join me again soon for part 2 of this series!
PS–any ideas for cultural topics to include? I have a few ideas, but would love more if you would leave them in the comments!