Let’s try that again

Based on some recent assessments, I found that many of my students were struggling with using progressive vs. preterite tenses: estaba corriendo (he was running) vs. corrió (he ran).   As with any grammatical hangup, I had three options:

  1. move on and hope it works itself out
  2. use worksheets and activities to make students think more about details
  3. back up and provide more input

Depending on the situation, any of the three could be effective.  In this case, I did not feel that we could move on without better mastery of the concept.  And in my experience, using activities to force students to focus on details tends to only result in temporary improvement.  Thus, I decided to try #3 with just a touch of #2.

I would love to hear other thoughts about what you do when students struggle with a concept.  Here’s what we did.

1. I started with this simple presentation, which includes example sentences of the two forms being used together.  (He WAS SWIMMING when a shark ATE him.) As we viewed the presentation, I provided many reps of the sentences used correctly and a few quick English explanations.

Estaba . . . cuando

2. I distributed phrases from this sheet to students.  Half got sentence starters from page one (on pink paper) and the others got sentence finishes from page two (on white paper).  They did not need to create or translate the sentences.  I had already done the hard work  They formed pairs by finding anyone with a different colored paper, put their papers together to form a sentence and spent a minute deciding how they would act it out.

Estaba . . . cuando match and act

3. Pairs came up in front of class while I read their sentences and did some questioning.  Again, students only had to act, and I did all the talking.

4. One student was a photographer and took pictures of each pair at the moment in which the ongoing action was interrupted.

5. I displayed the photos and provided more input as we talked about them.

6. I distributed this sheet to pairs of students and asked them to create a few of their own sentences.  Each group was creating sentences about what happened in a specific place.  This was their first output activity after much input.

write/draw places: estaba . . . cuando

7. Groups traded papers and drew the scene that was described in the paper they received.  For example:

   At the beach

A woman was running when a dog ate her. 

A shark was swimming when a boy yelled “Run!”

 I think it helped.  We’ll see. It was certainly engaging.



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