Letting a grammatical concept unfold naturally……

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted, and I’m feeling quite the urge to begin again!  Just about a year ago, I wrote an entry on “si clauses” and how I introduce them with my Spanish IV classes.  I’m approaching that unit again, but, because I move further and further each year AWAY from my designated grammatical curriculum and more toward encouraging language and allowing the grammar to happen naturally, this unit is unfolding even more differently this year.

My Spanish IV students have not been introduced to either the conditional or the past subjunctive.  In fact, I have all but abandoned the mechanical teaching of any grammar concept, and have just let things happen as they will.  A few days ago, we had done a cocktail party where each student had been assigned to be a famous musical artist.  Their goal, during the party, was to discover the identities of their fellow musicians, without using any song title or musical composition.  To their surprise, I chose only English speaking artists.  The lesson was a big hit, and they enjoyed class quite a bit (aided no doubt by the fact that I served sparkling grape juice, cheese, pepperoni and crackers).  As we were discussing the activity the following day, and as they enthusiastically requested to repeat the “party” in the near future (next time it will be with famous historical figures), they questioned me about musical artists who typically sing in English and whether they sing in Spanish.  Beyonce immediately came to mind, and a few days later, I began class with “Si Yo Fuera un Chico”.  Of course, they were hooked! 

I followed the video with a very old article that came from the marvelous Zachary Jones when his site was called Actualidades. We then examined the lyrics in Spanish, and made some comparisons with the English.  With some careful questioning, they discovered, by themselves, how the “would” verbs were formed, including one irregular (haría).  After reading, and some discussion, I split the class into groups to discuss these questions that Zachary had used after his article:

(Para las chicas) Si fueras un chico, ¿qué harías? ¿actuarías diferente? ¿Qué comprenderías mejor? (Para los chicos) Si fueras una chica, ¿qué harías? ¿Te portarías diferente? ¿Qué comprenderías mejor?

Conversation broke out slowly at first, but gathered steam.  We wrapped up class by creating a list of their ideas and responses to the questions.  I told them that the next day, they would be grouped in groups of all boys or all girls. When they arrived the next day, we very briefly (no more than a minute) looked at the formation of the “would” verbs, and glanced at the irregulars for tener, venir, salir, poner, decir and hacer.  After that, I split into groups and gave them their directions for their conversation for the next 5  minutes.  The choice of words came directly from their conversation and subsequent listing the previous day:

Para los chicos:

Si fueran Uds. chicas……

  1. Sus personalidades (amigables, chismosas, habladoras, etc.)
  2. Sus apariencias (la ropa, la maquillaje, los zapatos, los acesorios, etc.)
  3. El estado de sus cuerpos (limpios, afeitados, perfumados, el pelo, etc.)
  4. Sus actividades y sus pasatiempos
  5. Sus portamientos (behaviors) en la escuela y también con sus amigos/as

Si fueran Uds. chicos………

  1. Sus personalidades (crueles, violentos, tercios…..)
  2. Sus apariencias (la ropa, el pelo, los zapatos, los acesorios, sin ropa, etc.)
  3. El estado de sus cuerpos (sucios, sin afeitarse, el peso {weight}, etc.)
  4. Sus actividades y sus pasatiempos
  5. Sus portamientos (behaviors) en la escuela y también con sus amigos/as

At the end of the five minutes, I gave them all dry erase markers, and sent them to different whiteboards in the room, where they were told to draw everything that they had talked about in their individual groups.  After another five minutes of laughter and whispers, I had the groups rotate to a different board.  With a partner from their group, they examined the pictures, and attempted to say everything that was pictured, saying “I would…..”.  Rotating again, they were required to work with a different partner from their group, and repeat that exercise.  Finally, I had the groups sit, working with yet another partner in their group, they were asked to write as much as they could from the pictures on one of the boards.  I collected the papers and asked them how they felt.  They were unanimous in their agreement that it was FUN, EASY, and they feel like they have a grasp on this new verb formation.  I will follow this activity with many of the activities that I detailed in that earlier post on “si clauses”.

Here are some examples of what they talked about, then drew, then wrote about.



Here is an unedited/uncorrected compilation of some of the things that they wrote:
Si yo fuera un chico…….
No me ducharía mucho y no lavaría todos los días.
Comería toda comida en casa, especialmente las galletas y el helado.
Haría ruidos asqueroso y holería mi “armpit”. (I think they wanted to say “smell”)
Me llevaría bueno con mi amigos y no pelearía pero hablaría de nada.
Jugaría videojuegos violentos todo lo día y pensar cosas violentos.
Llevaría pantalones flojos (saggy…no sé la palabra) y ver mi ropa interior.
No me importaría de mi pelo; no me cepillaria mi pelo mucho.
Comprendería todos los deportes y hablaría mucho de cosas estupidas.

Si yo fuera una chica……
Maquillaría mucho y durante la clase cepillaría mi pelo y preguntar mi amiga si mi pelo es perfecto.
Hablaría, hablaría y hablaría y pelearía con mis amigas siempre.
Sería chismosa y deciría cosas malas y no verdad.
No conduciría bien y tendría problemas con mi coche.
Comería frutas y verduras y hablaría de mi “weight” y soy gorda.
Estudiaría mucho y recibiría buenas notas pero deciría que tengo notas malas.
Haría mi tarea toda la noches y sería un “suck up” con la profesora.

I’m going to use this video, called The Black Hole, to start the next class. It doesn’t contain any speech, just video, and I will ask them to talk about what they would do with “a black hole”.


Talking Cards

I got the idea for this activity from a presentation made by a TESOL teacher recently and knew that I wanted to revise it and put it in Spanish.   I can’t wait to try it out with my students.  The activity is called Talking Cards, and you need to have a deck of cards for every group of students.  I’m thinking that there will be 4 students in a group, but there could be more.  Each student will have the Talking Card sheet below.  As you can see there is a category for each suit in the deck of cards, and the categories could certainly be changed to reflect any vocabulary or grammar that you may be working on at the moment. For my first time with the activity, my categories are going to be:  favorites, describing things, if it were possible, and what….?  Students will draw a card and look at their worksheet to see what they should say based on the card drawn.  For example, if the student draws a four of hearts, then he will describe an umbrella in Spanish. If the student draws a seven of clubs, he will then have to say in what country he would live if it were possible to live there.  If the student successfully performs the task on the sheet for the card he has drawn, he will score those points.  The winner would be the student who has accumulated the most points at the end of a period of time.  I don’t think I would wait for the groups to go through all 52 cards! I’m sure there will be all types of variations that could be made for this activity.  A category could become an actual physical act to perform, using commands, such as an ace of spades could say Salta tres veces or Canta La Cucaracha.  Let me know what ideas you may have.

If it were……., then……

Sometimes teaching the past subjunctive and conditional “si clause” can be a boring, tedious proposition.  Here are a few suggestions that worked for me this year with my Spanish IV class.

We had been reviewing the conditional, and we had been working with the poem Instantes.  I chose to ignore the past subjunctive in the poem as we were working with it, and in true teenage style, my students did not question the different verb form (Si pudiera vivir nuevamente mi vida…..).  We worked through the online exercises for the poem from the wonderful site Spanish Language and Culture, and then worked with the poem itself.  Instantes 2012  We watched two videos, one with the poem spoken, and one with the poem projected in writing:

I literally began my work with the past subjunctive with this clip from Fiddler on the Roof

Yes, I started in English! Upon watching it, we talked about the phrase “If I were a rich man”, and about how many people today would say “If I was a rich man”.  I then had the students complete the phrase, “Si yo fuera rico/a….” with three different endings.  They shared the sentences in small groups and I then showed them how easy it is to form the past subjunctive.  They then experimented with “Si pudiera….” and “Si tuviera….

In small groups, I had them work with a few of the prompts from this website :Vuelos de fantasía For the next three days, we listened to a different song each day that used the Si clause construction.  I gave the students the lyrics first, and I had them Color code lyrics Si clauses.  Next, we watched the video, and finally, I had them respond to the video with these si clause prompts for songs.

Since many of my students work with ASP and are familiar with this song, for fun we also looked at “If I had a hammer (Peter, Paul and Mary)” and “Si tuviera un martillo”

The last assignment before our spring break was for the students to create their own “If……then” poem.  I left it completely wide open.  They could choose to write “If I had, then..”, or “If I could, then….”, or “If I were, then…..”.  The only other direction that I gave them was to model the poem on “Instantes”, meaning that there should be a few past subjunctive verbs, with many responses to each of those verbs in the conditional.  The form and shape of the poem was up to them.  I will post some of them when they turn them in.

When the students return from break, I will use this Twiccionario from Zombombazo (Zachary Jones) to review the structure.

What do you use when working with the “Si clauses”?