Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Imperfect Tense - Photos Provide Wonderful Compelling Input

Are you looking for an easy way to get a lot of repetitions of high frequency verbs in the imperfect tense? 

Tell your students to bring a photo to class or to email a photo of themselves doing something when they were little.  Put the photos in a powerpoint or share the photos using a document camera. Start by asking ¿Cómo se llama él/ella? (What is his/her name?) and then ¿Qué hacía él/ella cuando era niño/a? (What did s/he did when s/he was a little boy/girl?) After the students answer, talk directly to the student who is in the photo to get exposure to the tú form. For the example of the little girl at the beach, ask:
- To what beach did you used to go?
- With whom did you used to go to the beach?
- For how many days did you used to stay at the beach?
- What things did you do at the beach?
and then mix it up and ask if she still goes to the beach or if she only did that when she was little.
You can easily find a handful of questions for each photo. You don't need to be concerned that the students will tire of the repetition. My students are so interested in seeing photos of their friends when they were younger that they appear not to notice the repetition or, if they do, they don't mind it. 

I use this activity each year with my Spanish 2 students. The photos provide the opportunity for highly personalized questions, complete with actively engaged students and, most definitely COMPELLING and comprehensible input. 

Note: If you have a student that doesn't have photos available of when they were younger, make sure you have a plan B for those students so they don't feel left out.  A nice twist that may be an option for Plan B, is for some students to bring in photos of their grandparents or great-grandparents.  Then you can talk about what the older generations used to do which may evolve into an interesting talk about the differences of growing up now compared to growing up several decades ago.


  1. I use this activity with my level 3's but more when we are using the preterite and the imperfect together and it is more of a writing/presentational activity. I am definitely looking to make my class more communicative, so I thank you for your ideas!

    1. Interesting. Are you willing to share the writing piece you do with this? I would enjoy hearing how you incorporate the writing and presentations.

      I considered adding a small writing piece (since it's Spanish two students), possibly with an app so they could add 4 or 5 photos of themselves or families and record themselves talking. That would be something both students and parents would enjoy.

  2. It's the same premise as your activity. But instead of me asking questions aloud, students are asked to bring in a picture from their childhood, then in class they are given the prompt to write a short story in the past tense about the picture, what happened before the picture, during the picture and after the picture. Or if they aren't a average to above average level 3 student, then I ask them to choose one of the options (before, during or after)

    They have to use both the preterit and the imperfect in the story. Then I do what you do and display the pictures on my SmartBoard the the students narrate the picture with what they wrote.

    Again this is a level 3 that I do this activity with because we are using the 2 tenses together.