Conjugating verbs is a vital part of making yourself understood in almost every language. But most of us do so instinctively in our native language, which makes learning to conjugate verbs in another language a foreign, intimidating concept to beginning language learners.
You can help your Spanish students grasp this concept by constantly reinforcing it with new examples and exercises. The repetition, paired with various classroom activities to appeal to different learning styles, gives your students a chance to internalize this new concept and practice it in a safe, supportive environment. This can be hard work, but if you can find ways to encourage your Spanish students to play instead of toiling–for example, bringing dice into classroom activities to provide a fun, random element–they'll learn and retain the information that much faster.
“Ar,” Said the Spanish Pirate
You can do this activity as soon as you've taught a few basic Spanish -ar verbs and how to conjugate them. Write five or six example verbs on the board, along with the full conjugation chart, then write a few more verbs on the board for students to conjugate on their own. Obviously, you'll want to use only regular verbs such as hablar, caminar, bailar, desear and preguntar.
Students will start to see the pattern of removing the ar from the end of any of the verbs in this category. Make sure you give plenty of examples, so students see that conjugation process is the same for all regular -ar verbs, no matter what the verb means. After about twenty minutes of conjugation teaching, review and exercises, you're ready to introduce the dice.
Prepare by writing the numbers one through six on the board, assigning a subject pronoun to each number. It's easier to simply go in order, so number one is yo, number two is tú, and so on.
Break your students into groups of three, and give each group a regular six-sided die, along with the following instructions:
- You (the teacher) will write an -ar verb on the chalkboard.
- One student in each group will roll that group's die.
- The other two students will conjugate the -ar verb you wrote, using the subject pronoun that corresponds with the number on the die. So if the number three came up, the students would use the pronoun next to the three on the board. If you wrote the subject pronouns in order, this would be Usted.
- The first student in each group to call out the correct conjugation (if you wrote the verb hablar on the board and they rolled a three for Usted, that would be habla) gets a point. The first student to ten points gets to roll the die for the next round. The student with the die doesn't guess answers, but instead judges who guessed the right answer fastest. The student with the die can keep her book open for reference, if need be.
- You change the -ar verb listed on the board every so often, at about the time the students are switching rounds.
This activity is appropriate for middle school students onward. If your class seems to enjoy it, you can practice with -er and -ir verbs, stem changing verbs, and other tenses.
- Author’s own experience