Here are a couple of activities for comparing tenses with students. We started with the following story script to be asked in class. The emphasized structures were:
tocaba la batería – used to play the drums
era perezoso(a) – was lazy
luchó – s/he fought
I liked the structure “tocaba la batería” because it allowed us to use a verb for which students knew the meaning well and focus on the imperfect “aba” form. Of course, I didn’t care about them knowing the term “imperfect”, but I did want them to know that it was used for something that used to happen often in the past. It also provided a natural way to get in vocabulary for a new musical instrument – one of the few that are not cognates in Spanish.
For non-Spanish teachers, the story is about a band. Much time should be spent talking about who played what instrument. Then it is revealed that one of the members was lazy and never practiced. After a disastrous concert, each member of the band fought with the lazy musician. It works well for showing the difference between habitual actions (practicing instruments or other activities that the lazy member did instead) and completed actions (the fights).
After the story, we moved to the following reading. I used myself as the main character and started with an obviously exaggerated description of how awesome I am these days (present tense). Next, I revealed that I was not always so awesome and described some of my former habits (imperfect). At the end, I explained what happened (preterite) to change me from my former self to the glorious fellow I am today.
The reading, which includes drawing activities at the end can be found below: