Saturday, March 8, 2014

Emphasizing the use of the Imperfect Tense to Describe People

What is the overarching goal for our students pertaining to the imperfect tense? For me, one is that when they want to describe someone (or something) they automatically begin describing using the imperfect tense rather than pausing and trying to visualize a chart that lists the reasons when to use the imperfect tense and when to use the preterit tense and then deciding (or guessing) which one they need.

One activity that helps students stay focused on communication and creating using the language, rather than on grammar, is called "Mi vecino extraño". In February, I used the below activity to show students how to describe other people.  I model the activity, ask lots of questions, and eventually give the students the task of describing their (imaginary) strange neighbor.


1. Focus words that students already knew before the lesson:
- Ella se llamaba...
- era
- llevaba
(also had exposure to tenía, and trabajaba)

2. New focus words were:
 - tenía # años
- vivía en
- mi vecino(a) era extraño(a);  

3. Ask students if they have neighbors; close neighbors?, their names, what they're like (complete this in the present). If there are students in your class that have moved and can describe the neighbors they USED TO HAVE, that is even better.

4. I began by telling students about my neighbor when I was a little girl. You can choose a photo from google images if it makes it easier to talk about your "neighbor". Ask students to guess where "my neighbor" worked, describe his physical features, how old he was etc.  Be sure to use new structures from #2 above. 

5. Show the sketch of "mi vecina extraña"; read the description. Ask more questions regarding the sketch.

6. For additional practice, show more Google images of people and ask students to tell you information about the person, using structures listed in #1 and #2 above.

7. Students works in groups of 2 to sketch their crazy neighbors on construction paper and to answer the following questions (in the TL):
- what was his/her name?
- where or in what did s/he live
- age
- what s/he did that was "odd"
- what clothing s/he always used to wear
Those are the questions that they had to answer. Some students wanted to add more information. 

8. I had students post their finished sketches and descriptions around the room. Before they post the sketches, give them a letter to write on their sketch and a number to write on their description.

Example for 28 students: 
First seven students get the following combinations of letters and numbers:
A7   B3   C1   D5   E4   F2   G6
After they write their letter and number, those first 7 students tape their sketches and descriptions at a designated place in the room. Remind them not to put their description right next to the sketch.  

 Continue the number and letter system for the rest of the students, using AA  BB etc. if you have a huge class.

9. Students number their paper 1-28 (or however many students are in the room) and then read the descriptions to find the matching sketch.

 I liked that the students were able to use their imaginations and that they received more repetitions of the words by reading their classmates' descriptions. Since this was completed in one class period, I didn't have time to collect their descriptions and suggest changes so there were some grammar errors, and, to date I'm not sure if I should divide the activity into 2 days or, if at this point, it's not an issue.   ??


  1. Did you manage to fit all of this into 1 40 minute period or do you already have larger block scheduling class times?
    Thanks! I love this idea and can't wait to use it, but I don't think I'll be able to squeeze it all in together. Nor can I think how to stretch it into 2 days.
    Again, great job! Can't wait to share.

  2. My school has 70 minute periods.

    My suggestion: if you don't have enough time in your 40 minute periods, on the second day, complete this activity and when you are finished, do another activity with the imperfect such as a reading loaded with the imperfect. Have you read the online book El mejor regalo para Pablo ?

  3. I love this activity! Can you repost the link to the sketch?

    1. I checked the link and it wasn't working because I think I deleted it from the app, but before I did that I had sent the pic to myself. So I uploaded the pic to my Google drive and the link works again.