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Try Teaching Demonstrative Adjectives Like This!
With all the attention verbs and pronouns deserve, require and usually receive in most Spanish textbooks and classrooms, we sometimes overlook things that seem simple on the surface but which, when we are forced to explain them, their complexity comes to the fore.
Teaching the forms and uses of demonstrative adjectives is one area that often is overlooked -- if what my university freshmen tell me about their high school Spanish programs is accurate. This lesson plan will give you a concrete way to present the concept and to model the most common uses of these words.
First, place three small tables, stands, stools or cardboard boxes as far apart from each other as possible, keeping them accessible to you and a small group of student volunteers. One of the three should be quite obviously more remote from the other two. On each stand, place a half-a-dozen or so small, familiar objects -- whose names in Spanish are known to the students. If possible, use brightly colored objects. Include three objects which are identical except for their color. I sometimes use three Ping-Pong balls which I painted -- one blue, one yellow and one red, one on each of the three stools. Folded shirts (baby clothes are great) also have come in handy, along with small books and magazines, pencils and ballpoint pens.
If your students have learned gustar, you can use that verb to ask and answer questions in which the demonstratives will be used. If not, it is easy to use simpler structures, such as ¿Qué hay en esta mesa? to get to the object of the lesson - the forms and uses of the demonstrative adjectives. That simple question need not elicit - at first - any more than a simple list of nouns -- a fact that helps you reinforce the varying genders of the objects. But that comes a bit later.
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Understanding in English
I like contrastive methods, contrastive grammar for exposing students to concepts. For demonstrative adjectives, I will stand next to one of the tables and begin in English -- if it is the very first time they have been exposed to this lesson. I say: What is on this table? I don't particularly care about the answers in English, because the point is, they see me standing next to a table and I've asked about this table. When they have finished naming the five or six objects, I ask them how they knew that I wanted them to list the objects on this table and not the others. Of course they will say it was because I was standing next to it. I then ask them if that was the only reason they knew I was referring to this table (I stress the word this as I say it, and simultaneously, perhaps even with a bit of theater acting, pointing at it with my finger, or tapping its surface). Someone will pick up on that and point out that I said this table and that I was pointing to it or touching it.
I then ask them what the word this told them and how it is related to my pointing or tapping the table. This draws out the fact that a demonstrative adjective is a verbal pointing word. The question about how I could elicit a list of objects on a different table without changing position will get them to say that table. I engage in enough Q&A to draw out the concept of demonstrating with a word, as if with the finger and the concept of the distance. This can usually be accomplished by asking them how you could get them to list the objects on a different table without your having to change your position.
Next, I write the caption Demonstrative Adjectives across the top of the board, and write: this, these, that, those underneath this caption. I put this to the upper left, these to its right; that I write beneath this and those beneath that. This sets up the next step visually. Combined with the previous discussion they are primed to transfer the concepts to new words.
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At this point I inform them that they are about to learn the Spanish equivalents of these words, plus a bit more (aquel, etc.), but first, I ask: Can anyone tell me why there are going to be more forms in Spanish than in English? How many? Get them to recall that adjectives follow the gender and number of the nouns they modify. You can often draw this out by holding an object, then objects, of varying number and gender and saying their names loud and clear, preceded by the proper article: los lápices, la revista, etc.
Below the English words and across the board, I draw two grids with four boxes: two on the left, two on the right. I write the forms in the boxes, singular masculine este in the upper left box, its plural estos to its right. The feminine forms I write below, in like manner. I also fill in the other grid, beginning with ese. I save aquel, etc. until the end of the lesson, so that the concept of the relative distance and the forms that correspond to English usage are well engrained.
Using Spanish Demonstrative Adjectives
At this point, they are ready for a quick demonstration. Standing by the same table as before, Ask the same question, but now in Spanish: ¿Qué hay en esta mesa? Model one answer, e.g., En esta mesa hay una revista. Get them to name the rest, in a complete sentence, using esta mesa in the answer.
The next step is to apply the demonstratives to the objects on the tables, asking similar simple questions, modeling one answer and eliciting the rest. Get individual students to stand by different tables where they are to ask and answer questions about the objects on their tables and those of and others. Point out that, just as in English, the concept of distance is relative. If objects are of varied quality, you can also increase the complexity by having them use comparatives.
In Spanish, the Third Distance
Finally, I introduce the third distance, as I call it, and put the grid up for aquel, etc. I simply tell them that the Spanish forms for this and that (este and ese) work as in English. Ese, etc. are for objects near the speaker. Ese etc. are for objects somewhat more distant from both speakers and aquel etc. for things out of reach, or simply remote, from both speakers.