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In a Spanish I, students learn the basic prepositions after learning the verb “estar" and the rules for its use. This provides a great opportunity to practice this verb while presenting new material. In a language class previous grammatical concepts are always recycled. You are constantly building on prior knowledge. There are some great activities to practice and reinforce the use of “estar"--to be--with prepositions.
Before I present the basic Spanish prepositions, I first review “estar" with the class. I have students conjugate the verb and we form some example sentences. We also talk about the uses of the verb and the differences between “ser" and “estar" when expressing the English verb “to be". Once the students feel comfortable with how the verb is conjugated, and when it is used, I write the prepositions on the board. As with any new vocabulary, I model how the words are pronounced and the students practice saying them. At that point I ask the class why we should use “estar" with prepositions instead of “ser". We come to the conclusion that “estar" is used to describe location.The class already knows the rules of when to use “estar".
Now I walk around the room speaking in Spanish, describing my location in reference to different classroom objects. This is another opportunity to review previous vocabulary since classroom object words are covered during the first week of class. Many times I use the desk as a point of reference. I stand in front of it, behind it, to the left and right of it and even on top of it if students need to wake up!
The whole time I am moving around the desk I am telling students where I am in Spanish. Next I take a book and move it around the desk to provide an example of “estar" conjugated to the third person singular. I may even grab two or three books after that just to be able to use the third person plural conjugation of the verb. Some instructors aren’t as animated as others and may not feel comfortable walking all over the room. It is important for the students to have a visual image while hearing the “estar" + preposition combination. I would suggest that such an instructor just take a chair and place it in front of the class. This can be used as the reference point.
An even better strategy in this situation would be to have one of the students be the model to walk around the room. If your students don’t perk up and pay attention when a classmate is walking around during class then you may need to check to see if they are alive! Getting students up and moving while using the target vocabulary and grammar is always a good practice. It gets the blood flowing to the brain and quells any tendencies a student may have to fall asleep or daydream during class.
So far I have presented the grammar and vocabulary for this topic and I have modeled it for the students. Examples have been written on the board and the class has seen me walking around the room. Now it is time for students to form their own sentences. Using the students in groups of two, I have them describe the location of different objects or places that we haven’t covered yet. It is important to get the students to use the different conjugations of this verb. So I ask that the groups provide an example of each form of the verb. By this I mean a particular group could use the following as the first three of their five sentences: 1. Estoy cerca de mi amigo. 2. Tú estás lejos de la casa. 3. El libro está encima del escritorio… This will usually take us to the end of class.
The next class session I provide a warm-up on this topic and I do an activity where the students move classroom objects to locations in the room according to my directions in Spanish.
Using “estar" with prepositions is a topic in Spanish that most students can pick up pretty quickly. The hardest part tends to be memorizing the different prepositions. As with any other vocabulary in Spanish, this is done through practice and repetition. Using this activity helps students enjoy the memorization process.
See these articles for additional material on using "ser" and "estar".