Teaching Spanish Grammar Using Parsing

How Many of You Remember “Parsing”?

This article has been written from the point of view of one teaching Spanish but can easily be adapted for other languages, including English (whether for native speakers or in an ESL class).

Don't let the word parsing scare you if you do remember parsing. This method isn't quite as tedious, but it accomplishes many of the same goals as that old-fashioned school house method. By the way, what would be wrong with kids learning language as well as they did four or five generations ago with the McGuffeys Readers? Don't think I don't like technology either — after all it's the means by which I can tell teachers all the marvellous ways to put language back at the center of our students' lives.

First, tell students to bring three medium-sized tipped highlighters: light blue, light pink and yellow. Note, if a student is color blind, he (it's usually a he) can mark up the text differently (drawing a square around a word or phrase, underlining with a straight line or zig-zag line, etc., whatever you agree upon as the equivalents of the colors others will be using. Share this code with the rest of the class if the student doesn't mind so that all can participate equally.

The following day, after everyone has out their markers, hand out several copies to each student of a photocopy or print out of one page of text in the target language. They will need more than one copy because they will be using the same text multiple times, as you'll see below. Be sure it is clear, preferably with no pictures or images — pure text. It could be a play script, a novel, a newspaper story, even poetry (poetry can be good because the texts are short and a little less threatening in terms of volume).

Next, decide if your class needs to review parts of speech or grammar. If they are reasonably strong, doing a review of the parts of speech may be boring. But doing an intensive grammar review (plus the parts of speech) will challenge them.

If doing the parts of speech only, have one color stand for nouns, one for verbs and one for adjectives on the first pass through the text. The second time through, on a clean copy, have them identify all subject pronouns, all articles (definite and indefinite) and demonstrative adjectives. On a subsequent pass, you can have them identify adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions. That leaves interjections, if any.

Have transparencies ready for use with an overhead projector to review the answers. When identifying the articles, have them state whether it is definite or indefinite (since you may have assigned them all at once and they will have been marked in the same color).

If you opt to do a grammar review, which is my favorite, they are to mark in different colors (you decide) the subjects, verbs (or verb phrase) and object pronouns on the first pass. When checking answers, ask whether the object pronouns are reflexive, direct or indirect. If there is an indirect object pronoun used, ask if there is a clarifying clause. Also ask them what part of speech the subjects are — noun or pronoun (proper or common noun; person and number/gender of pronouns). For verbs, ask them to give the person, number, tense and mood.


  • Author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.