How to Teach Preterite Conjugations

How to Teach French, Spanish Preterite vs. Imperfect Spanish Lessons
Don’t you just love teaching tricky verb tenses? 

Nope, not really!  In particular, the past tenses and the subjunctive can be so troublesome to teach.  But why are they so hard to teach?  Well, for the first thing, many of us aren’t teaching our students the way that native speakers learn.  If you’re interested, read the beginning of this series, “How Native Speakers Learn Differently Than Language Students” here.  This post will share ideas and a free handout to teach preterite conjugations and get your students speaking and writing more fluently in no time!

To sum up my previous article, it’s very difficult to replicate the repetition that you get as a native speaker with your parents speaking to you 24 hours a day.   As teachers, we often only have between 1 and 5 hours a week with our students.

There just isn’t enough time! 

For this reason, I’m taken some of the ways that native speakers learn and created a hybrid system so that even though we don’t have as much time with our students, we can still teach them effectively in native-like situations.  Here are a few solutions to get your students speaking more fluently instead of conjugating verbs in their heads.

  1. When you’re teaching a new tense, instead of teaching the full conjugation with all the subject pronouns, start with teaching just the “I” forms and then the “you” forms.  

Almost all of our natural communication is in these forms, so focus on them first.  Teach regular verbs, reflexive verbs, and irregular verbs in just these two forms.

Here are a few examples from my Spanish Preterite Imperfect Unit.  For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, the first slide shows the formation of regular verbs in the “I” form, the second slide is practice (students click to see the answer),  and the third slide has fill-in-the-blank sentences using the “I” form.

Spanish Preterite vs. Imperfect Lesson Plans, PowerPoint

Spanish Preterite vs. Imperfect Lesson Plans, PowerPoint

Spanish Preterite vs. Imperfect Lesson Plans, PowerPoint

2.  Practice, practice, practice. 

Have students ask each other questions and spend extra time with any irregulars.  Create small activities using especially awkward, but common irregulars so that students get used to hearing them and using them.

3. Tip:  Pick 3-4 irregulars to work on each day.

If you teach them all at once in a huge list, it’s much harder for students to learn them all (and remember, learning in lists is not how native speakers learn).

4.  Once students have mastered these, add the he, she forms, then they forms, and finally, the we forms.  You’ll find that these are so much easier once students have mastered the first two forms.

Want more than just a few tips?  Find ready-made, teacher-tested French and Spanish resources here including this 400-page preterite, imperfect unit.

Spanish Preterite Vs. Imperfect Lesson Plans, Games, Activities

Spanish Preterite and Imperfect Lesson Plans

And be sure to grab this helpful Preterite vs. Imperfect:  A Simple System for Choosing handout in my Free Resource Library and check out the rest of the blog series:  How to Choose between Preterite and Imperfect and Engaging Preterite vs. Imperfect Activities.


Learn how to choose preterite vs. imperfect tense.

Preterite vs. Imperfect

Hope this post about How to Teach Preterite Conjugations was useful.  Keep reading to find out more about teaching tricky irregular verbs in Part 2 of How to Teach Tricky Verbs and Grammar.

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    Getting Students to Speak in the Target Language in Class
    March 18, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    […] Native Speakers Learn Differently than Language Students How to Teach Tricky Verb Tenses and Grammar 20 Ways to Get your Students Speaking in the Target Language Reward Ideas High School Students […]

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