Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ser vs. Estar

I wanted to review Ser and Estar with my students this week, but I didn't want them to focus on grammar.  I wanted the focus to be on having the students work together on a goal to communicate something that, coincidentally, called for sentences that used Ser and Estar. After a little thought, I came up with the following activity. 

When a major bookstore closed in my area, I bought these state books for $1 or less, packed with large photos of people and places.   

I found a photograph of a man at a flea market and tore it out of the book.  On Day 1 of the activity I posted the photo on the board next to several questions that the class needed to answer about the man.  The rule was they had to speak only in Spanish (that's a standard rule) and their answers had to be creative.  
Some of the questions they had to answer were:
- ¿Qué está haciendo el hombre?
- ¿De dónde es?
- ¿Dónde está? ¿Por qué está alli?
- ¿Cómo es el hombre?(características; cualidades inherentes)
- ¿Cuál es su nacionalidad?
- ¿Qué hora es?  ¿Qué día es?
- ¿Por quién fue sacada la foto?
- ¿Cuál es su profesión?
- ¿Es miembro de qué organizaciones?
- etc

The students were focused on creating an identify for the man that they didn't realize that all the sentences they were using had either Ser or Estar. It the students 30+ minutes to come up with an identity that they agreed on.  That's 30 minutes of discussion in the TL, concentrating on a communicative task and not listing rules.  At the end of the class I asked them if they knew why I had them to the activity.  They gave answers such as: "you wanted us to use our imaginations", "you wanted us to work together", "it required us to talk through our suggestions in Spanish", etc.  I told them that they were good reasons but not the underlying reason for the activity.

The next day we continued the activity, but this time students worked in groups of 2, I gave each group a new photo, and they worked to create an identity for the person.  I told them they would have to share with the class about their person so it was totally up to them if they wanted to write notes or not.  For today, I put the questions/facts that they needed to address in English.  We only had time for 2 groups to present and those two groups did not have many errors on their descriptions. I asked them again if they knew why we were doing the activity.  I got the same type of answer as yesterday.

On the 3rd day, the remaining groups talked about their photos and I needed to make some restatements when they used the wrong verb in their answers. Finally, a student turned to me and said, "Señora, I think I know why we're doing this."  After some prodding by me about the activity, several more students figured out why were did the activity.  One girl answered, "so we know the difference between Ser and Estar.  

I'm convinced that by using the language to create an identity, the students made more progress than by memorizing a list of reasons to use Ser and Estar. How much better for them to focus on communication than on grammar.  The assessment today was similar, with students writing about a person in a photo, in full sentences.   


  1. I'm retooling a "Back to School/ Review Unit" in my Spanish 2 classes and decided to do it thematically with CI. I've been using a lot of infographics for my CI as well as anything related to back to school. Since ser and estar is part of this "review" unit, I thought I could take your idea here but use pictures around school, of teachers, of school supplies, etc. and ask similar questions. Gracias para la inspiracion! Tu amiga en Hershey, Sherry

  2. Hi Sherry,
    How do you use infographics with CI? Do you make them yourself? I need some education on infographics.

  3. I love how you used the picture to turn it into a whole lesson on ser/estar without the kids evening knowing! Your questions prompted them to use the correct verb and give the information that described the situation.

  4. This is fantastic!

  5. Thanks for this idea! I was having "teacher's block" and this inspired me. I am doing landforms in Spanish with present tense/ser/estar, and after some digging, I got some cool pictures that would be interesting to describe using ser/estar. In my search I found out there is a thing called volcano boarding. You know teenagers would love to discuss that! All in TL of course! :)

    1. Thanks to you, I now know what volcano boarding is. You're right, they'll definitely love to discuss that, even in the TL. :-)

  6. Gracias "Karin", Welcome to blogger. :-)

  7. Thank you so much for posting on this! It will completely transform the way I cover a "required" topic!

    Question - How many days overall did you spend between the first day and your writing assessment? Did you include any explicit grammar notes and traditional practice worksheets, or did you keep the lesson at the communication-focused level?

    Thanks again!

    1. If I remember correctly with this particular class, we had 3 or 4 days before I gave them a photo and they had to write information about the person. The only "explicit" grammar was verbal, something like "Why did I use es when talking about his profession?" and if a student answered/explained correctly we moved on. I asked this question and similar questions several times in those 3-4 days. It wasn't the first time they've used the two words, but it certainly was a useful review for them.

  8. I hope this will help you guys as well: