Present Subjunctive, Disney Princesses and the Ideal Partner

As Spanish teachers, we all recognize that the teaching of the subjunctive is an ongoing process….certainly not one that you start and, at some point in time,  declare finished.  We have been working on the subjunctive for several months, and I’m always looking for different approaches to help my students.  A while ago, we had added the WEIRDO approach, which I believe was first promoted by Dr. Lemon.  We’ve done several different writing assignments using it.  We’ve also utilized several of the listening/writing exercises from Fluency Prof, such as Familia y vacaciones.  After several discussions (over a few days) about family, wishes and wants of individual family members, we moved on to childhood memories and fairy tales.  We talked about our favorite Disney movies from childhood, and what each of the heroes/heroines want.  The next step was to use the song Mi Princesa by Victor Munoz, and a worksheet from the always fabulous Zachary Jones.

The students really liked the song, and we spent considerable time identifying the subjunctive, the triggers, etc.  They also thoroughly enjoyed finding the Disney references in the lyrics.  The following day, we continued talking about Disney princesses, their stories, and their “wants and desires.”  I transitioned into a discussion about what they thought their ideal partner in the future might be like. After that, I provided each student with this paper: Tu pareja ideal subjunctive conv starter The purpose was to force them to use the subjunctive structures correctly, repeatedly, with the hope that such repetition might help to ingrain that structure in their memories.  I used this exercise as a type of human bingo activity, where the students were up out of their seats asking their classmates the questions, while trying to get a full card or a bingo (from affirmative answers).  After a designated time period (about 7 minutes), we sat down and discussed the results (there were some sentences that should have been difficult to answer affirmatively).  This speaking activity then transitioned into a writing activity.  Using the WEIRDO structure as our basis for a minimum 6 sentences and a C grade, I had the students decide how many sentences should be a B (8 sentences) and how many for an A (10 sentences).  They took the writing part very seriously and were invested in what they were writing about.  I’d like to say that their resulting paragraphs were almost error free, but they weren’t.  Nonetheless, I believe that this was an effective exercise, one that was relevant for them, and one that certainly reinforced the use of the present subjunctive. The final step of this pursuit of the subjunctive was a small group activity in which they shared their final paragraphs.

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”?

I think I’m back!

After many months of absence due to my mothers’ illness and passing, I think I am ready to re-enter the blog and twitter world!  It will be my goal to update at least twice each month, but I’m also teaching full time while being an accelerated master’s degree candidate in TESOL (meaning I’m taking 18 credits in the span of 8 months), so that might be a bit optimistic until school is finished for the year!

In several of my earlier blog entries, I alluded to a unit that I do on “social awareness”. I wrote three different entries on Somos el mundo, Ojalá que llueva café and Minas Piedras.  I always meant to go back and do an entry on the entire unit.  That hasn’t happened yet, but since I have gotten questions about it recently, I thought that I could at least post an entry about the unit in progress.  So, if you are interested, you can visit my wikispace ( ) that I use to post my lessons each day for myself and my students: La Música 2012 .  So far we have covered La República Dominicana with Juan Luis Guerra and the songs El Costo de la Vida and Ojalá que llueva café, Somos el mundo and a little bit of Aventura and Prince Royce.  We have just begun looking at Colombia and Juanes with La Historia de Juan and  La Camisa Negra.  We had already worked with A Dios le pido as we began the study of the present subjunctive, but we revisit it in this unit because the lyrics will now have additional meaning.  If you visit the wikispace, you can see the progression of the lessons each day.  It is a work in progress, and I’m usually only posting the lessons a day or so ahead of the actual date.  The current week is always at the top of the page, with the oldest material at the bottom of the page.  Therefore, if you start at the bottom of the page and scroll up, you will see the unit in chronological order! Today we reviewed what we know, and moved forward with the song Sueño (Juanes).  When you see references to photostory (an awesome program!), it refers to photostories that I have made for specific topics and songs. This week we will also be examining Minas Piedras and hopefully Bandera de Manos and Odio por amor.

If you are wondering how I do this unit (which lasts about a month) and still cover the “grammar”, it’s relatively easy.  Spanish III focuses on preterite and imperfect and present subjunctive with a bit of present perfect.  The students get constant re-inforcement on the structures through examining the lyrics, various writing assignments and some rote practice related to the songs.  You will see some of those activities listed on the wikispace.  If you have questions or suggestions….especially suggestions!  🙂  I welcome them!

A different take on communicative activities

I am still bogged down in a food chapter (and review of the preterite)  with my Spanish III classes, and I’m really feeling the need to do some different activities.  Today, I was determined to create something unlike anything that I’ve used with them to date.  All of the activities are partner or small group activities.

The first activity involves giving each person a set of pictures and having them decide what pictures they will use to make their sandwich.  This decision is made without their partner knowing what they have decided.  They must then ask each other about the ingredients on their sandwich, drawing a picture of the sandwich of their partner and labeling it. This entire process should take about 5 minutes.  It could then be expanded by having the students write a description of the partner’s sandwich, including such key vocabulary phrases such as “Me da asco” or “Sabe delicioso” etc. qué tiene tu sandwich partner oral writing practice 7B

The second activity is working yet again with the preterite, including some irregular preterite verbs. And my final burst of creativity involves working with the food vocabulary, with each partner having a set of pictures.  Each group of four pictures for each partner will have 3 pictures that are the same, and one that is different.  Through questioning in the target language, they will determine what picture is different in each group.  A sample for Compañero A and Compañero B in below, with the full file here:  What picture is different Hidden picture work with partner.   If I were to create this activity again, I would try to make the pictures that are different for each partner be the ingredients in a particular dish.  That way, when the partners had discovered the differences, the next task would be to identify what those ingredients would make. 


Using music WITHOUT using a cloze activity

Music is a language in and of itself, and one that crosses all linguistic barriers between people.  It is a sure way to connect your students with another culture other than their own.  Our students live and breathe music on a daily basis, and the transfer to another language is there, just waiting to be explored.  Having said that, we, as teachers, must use every means available to help our students make that connection, and that does NOT mean using cloze activities all the time.  Cloze activities are good, in limited quantities, but there is just so much more than can be done to open those musical connections.  I’m going to share some other types of activities that I have used with Spanish music.

1.  This is an idea that I adapted from EFL Classroom 2.0, and have used at the beginning of the school year to get my students accustomed to simply listening to a song and reacting to it, without attempting to understand all the words.

2.  Here is another one, modified, called Eres el juez, in which the students can assess a song, based on the lyrics, the vocals, the rhythm, the video, etc.  The image is just a sample.  Click here for the file  music+critique+you+be+the+judge.

3.  Fast Hands!

This activity can be modified to be used with a SMART board, with a regular board or in groups using index cards.

  1. Select a song and target the vocabulary that you wish to accentuate.
  2. Create cards for the words to place on a board, or index cards to use in groups, or a SMART board pop the balloon activity with the words.
  3. If playing with the whole class, divide class into two or three groups and have each group send a person to the board that contains the targeted vocabulary.  If playing in small groups, give each group a set of index cards with the targeted vocabulary.
  4. Play the song.  The goal is to grab the word from the board, or from the pile of index cards, when you hear that word in the song.  The winner will be the person who holds the most words from the song when the song ends.  You could use the entire song, or just a verse or chorus from the song.
  5. Follow up activities might include :
  • identifying the vocabulary words
  • placing the words into a cloze activity (individually, in groups of 2, or small groups of 3-4)
  • creating sentences with the words, either in context with the song or out of context
  • creating a new song with those words
  • singing the song

4.  I use the music of Juanes quite often in class.  For the song, Odio Por Amor, I created this (the lyrics are cut off, but my students had all of them): And for the song Sueño, I created this: 5.  Free Write.  When students have heard a song a few times, and have discussed what the song may mean, I like to let them listen one more time and address, in writing, a few questions as they listen.  For example, for Ojalá que llueva café (Juan Luis Guerra), the free write looked like this:

Escribimos (Ojalá que llueva café):  ¿Qué quiere decir la canción?  ¿Qué describe la canción? ¿Qué es el problema?  ¿Qué quiere Juan Luis Guerra? ¿Qué piensas de la canción?

6.  I’ve written in previous posts about the EFL activity Last One Standing.  I’ve also written about a fruit song.  Sometimes I give the students a list of words that may or may not be in the song, and they simply have to circle what words they do hear.

7.  There are entire lessons available from many internet sites that can be readily used, adapted or modified.  I found a lesson for Mi Burrito Sabanero and made a few changes: Juanes Burrito de Belén lesson

Of course, there are wonderful Spanish teachers who are creating incredible activities.  Zachary Jones astonishes me just about every day! There is just so much that can be done with a song in another language.  Today I have highlighted a few of my ideas.  Feel free to use my music database.  I update it on a monthly basis, and you can search it by musician, title, grammar, vocabulary, and culture; additionally, links to the youtube video are also provided.    I would really love to hear what other activities you have used successfully.

Food, glorious food!

Food.  We all teach about it, no matter the language or the level and all of us have developed many activities.  In this post I will share some activities and ideas that perhaps will be new, some are specifically for Spanish but some are general for any language.  As always, I would love to hear about your ideas and activities.  Since I teach Spanish III and IV, some of the activities will be too advanced for I and II, but could certainly be adapted.

Game/Online activities

Conversation Ideas (small groups or partners)

    • foods you like/don’t like; fruits and vegetables
    • food that your family always has for special occasions or holidays
    • food that is finger licking good (para chuparse los dedos), that is disgusting (da asco), that is out of date/expired, safe to eat or not? (está pasada), that makes your mouth water (se me hace agua la boca)
    • foods that change to other foods (milk to yogurt, peanuts to peanut butter, orange to orange juice, strawberries to jelly, etc.)
    • What am I?  Partner A describes a food to Partner B who must guess what the food is (I am round, sometimes red, sometimes green.  I’m good in pies.  [apple])
    • what do you prefer on your pizza/ on your hamburger
    • favorite fast foods
    • Very guided practice

Compañero A: 

  1. ¿Qué es tu bebida favorita?
  2. ¿Qué es tu fruta preferida?
  3. ¿Cuándo comes helado?
  4. ¿A qué hora comes la cena?
  5. ¿Qué te gusta poner en una hamburguesa?

Compañero B:

  1. ¿Qué es tu comida favorita?
  2. ¿Qué es tu verdura preferida?
  3. ¿Qué te gusta poner en tu pizza?
  4. ¿A qué hora comes el desayuno?
  5. ¿Cuándo comes en un restaurante?

Video Clips


Artistic Activities

  • Small groups, give students a picture of an open refrigerator and markers/pencils.  Give them one minute to draw food in the refrigerator.  Pass the picture to another group; give them one minute to add more food to the new refrigerator before passing to another group.  Repeat cycle.  After several drawing opportunities, have students identify the food in the refrigerator orally with their group.  After a time or two of the oral work, have students label the food in the refrigerator.
  • Pictionary  Divide class into two teams.  Have each team choose an “artist” who will be drawing on the board.  Give each team a few (2-3, depending on size of class) small whiteboards/markers.  Show the two artists a vocabulary food word to draw on the board.  The teams must write the food word on their whiteboard and hold it up for verification/point.  I usually have the team have the same word written on all of their whiteboards; this keeps everyone involved.
  • Food description  Students work with a partner, each one has been given a picture of a food item.  Without saying the word in Spanish, Partner A will describe the food item to Partner B, who must draw it.


    • Class is divided into small groups.  Teacher gives a category and gives the groups one minute to write as many words as possible that fit into the category.  Have the group pass the paper to another group who will verify that the words all fit into the category and assign points.
    • Class is divided into small groups.  Teacher gives a category and gives the groups one minute to write as many words as possible that fit into the category. Teacher starts with one group who will read their words to the class slowly.  If another group has the word, the word does not count.  Groups receive points for the words they have that no other group has.
    • Use the categories like playing Taboo.  One member of the team sees the category and begins to list foods that fit in the category.  Point(s) are awarded when their team can identify the category correctly.

“What is a Moment?” Activities for the video

I have mentioned the site EFL Classroom 2.0 many times in this blog, and I have adapted several of the activities from that site to use in my own Spanish classes. One of my favorite videos, “What is a Moment?”, I discovered on that site. While the video begins with some minimal English, it quickly becomes just images….but amazing images of ordinary life.  There are so many things that a language class could do with this video.

One of the activities suggested is to simply play the video and pause at specific, pre-selected moments.  Ask students to respond, either orally or in writing, to questions in whatever tense you may be targeting.  ¿Qué hacen?  ¿Qué están haciendo? ¿Qué hicieron? ¿Qué hacían?  ¿Qué harán?  Or you could simply ask for infinitives associated with the images.  It also is a great video for working with the present progressive.

Another suggested activity is to select a scene and use the 5 question words to have students respond in writing or speaking.  ¿Quién? ¿Qué? ¿Dónde? ¿Cuándo? ¿Por qué? This could even become a small group activity, with each member of the group responsible for providing the answer to one question. The activity could be extended with individual students, or a small group, writing a full description in story format of the selected image.

I’ve written about the game Last One Standing before (that I also took from EFL Classroom 2.0 and adapted).  That activity could also be used with this video if you gave the students the choice of one of these words:  hombre, mujer, viejo/anciano, niño/niña, amor, jugando  The student would stand with the selected word in response to the images and the last one standing at the end would be the “winner”.

There is another activity that could be done, using “moment” cards.  Give each student a different moment, and have them stand up with the appropriate image.  Or you could have that student responsible for describing that particular image (using the question words, if desired).  Some “moments” among the many in the videos

  • tocando la guitarra
  • niños jugando
  • vistiéndose
  • la abuela comiendo
  • tirándose al agua
  • leyendo un libro
  • cocinando un huevo
  • dando patatas
  • fumando
  • enseñando
  • haciendo la cama
  • pescando

In a more advanced class perhaps there could be a discussion of cultural perceptions.  Where did this video come from?  How would it be different in a Spanish speaking country?  I also love the idea that one reader gave of having each student make their own video montage of their moments, with description.

What else would you do with this video?