The “G Word”

When I left the textbook behind, I struggled a little.  I am not going to lie.  This idea that we DON’T need to follow a prescribed curriculum… that we DON’T have to teach isolated thematic units… was so foreign to me that I didn’t know exactly how to handle myself with all that freedom.  I knew that the key was the “grammar pop-up” but I just didn’t know how to do that well.

I am STILL not perfect.  Good grief, if I ever think I am perfect or know all the answers, I am leaving the classroom.  There is always something new to learn and some way to do this better!  I am also not judgmental.  I know what is working well in my classroom but I trust that you, as a language teacher, know what is working in your room.  We can have a different school of thought about how to get proficient students!

For me, the whole metamorphosis came about as a way to provide EQUITY in language learning.  I was really feeling bad about myself.  I had been failing students.  Literally and more literally… There were at least 8 Fs every year in my 65-70 Spanish 1 students (more than 10%) and I simply thought that they just weren’t cut out for language learning… but these kids weren’t dumb!  They were just learners who couldn’t do it the way I was teaching.  There were also a solid 7-15 who didn’t take level 2 because Spanish was boring and it just didn’t apply to their life.  By level 4 I was always down to about 18-20… Still around 25% but mainly because we offer dual credit.

Grammar is becoming easier for me.  I do it mainly through vocabulary structures.  It is wonderful because I never see Spanish 4 students writing “yo hablar” like I did when I taught from a list… they may not choose the right form every time but they usually hit the right tense!


  1. How do I do present tense in context with novels? Example from Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos:

By the time we read this novel, we have done a lot of Q and A (personalized) with the 1st and 2nd person and we have talked about each other using the 3rd person.  For me, this novel at the beginning of 3rd quarter is a way to really focus in on the 1st and 3rd plural.  Marcos and Bianca, the main characters, are always discussing their plans and the omniscient narrator talks about them in the 3rd person so I ask “what does vamos mean” and they say “we are going to” and I say “what part says we?” and they say “mos”…. We use this same idea with past tense all year long RE-TELLING stories and parts of novels.  The “n” and the “mos” work across the board for me… It requires seconds in English and by the time we have done it for 9 months, even most of the slow processors have it!

I use infographics and ads but I do not use long authentic texts with these students.  They are here to have fun and become addicted to this secret code that is our new language together!  So secret is our code that if I speak English to them in the hallway, they answer in Spanish or say “no inglés por favor”

You’re teaching for June.  Put le with every dice.  Ask them what it means to make it me dice or te dice… OVER AND OVER AND OVER…   They will get it.  Some won’t get it until Spanish 2, some until Spanish 3… but you know why?  They would have been my 8 Fs the old way and they STAYED IN CLASS!!! And that is something to celebrate!

  1. How do I work on past tenses with novels? Example from Frida Kahlo:

Now that we have spent Spanish 1 and part of 2 being exposed to the past tenses, I can start to put some rules on why things work the way they do… So in Frida we learned that el padre tenía ataques epilépticos… but later it says Frida went to the park with him and her dad “tuvo un ataque”… Perfect time to explain that tuvo is because this was an isolated attack.  NO they don’t get it the first time I say it, but they never memorized all the preterite and imperfect forms for me when I was jamming them in via the textbook.  As a matter of fact, I was well into teaching before I became confident with the difference!  I knew the rules, but it took time to apply them.  This is true of our students!  So just keep finding ways (novels for learners are GREAT because they’re designed specifically to do this!) to point out the difference while teaching the structure in context… Here I would also be able to recycle the “Frida y su padre tenían enfermedades” What does that n on tenían mean???

You know already that when you ask students for the gerund form of a verb they say “we never learned that” but they studied it 7 times in elementary and are studying it now in English 2. LOL  They just don’t really care much about those grammar names… What they do know is that “hablando” means talking… and that is enough for me!

  1. How do I work on future tenses with novels? Example from La hija del sastre:

We are reading Sastre right now in our Spanish 3 reading club and making predictions about what will happen next.  This novel has a lot of future tense so it seemed like just the right time to do some “futuring”… We came across regresarán when the soldiers had said they will return.. So I showed them quickly that the án on the r of the verb meant will… and we worked as a group to list other things they might do… Then we figured out that dropping the n would tell us what Emilia, the main character will do… So we made predictions about her.  We stopped as we read, I had group Q and A and after 2 weeks, on Discussion Thursday last week, some of my fastest processors were already using those future verbs to join the discussion.  They are solid with va a…. but this was a whole new twist for them!

That’s it… I showed them tendrá and vendrán because those will be important right now.  I’ll add saldrá later… but in context and in discussion so we use, use, use it… and we will continue to do so because taught is definitely not caught!


What about subjunctive, perfect tenses, double object pronouns, blah blah blah all those other things??? Just in context of the novels.  We start reading subjunctive in quarter 1, level 1 with Brandon Brown wants a dog… Su mamá quiere que vaya al doctor.  They don’t even bat an eye.  They read it and I say “vaya,” she wants him to but he may or may not want to go!  Vaya not va…

Se la dio- Gave it to her… What if I made it Me la dio “Gave it to me”  Ohhhhh Good job, clase!   All covered, just not all crammed in and then forgotten.  We go back again and again and again.

This does NOT create students who are grammatically perfect.  We are looking at getting them deep into the Intermediate level in 4 years and there is NO expectation of perfection at that level… Advanced speakers and writers make less errors but that level comes after college and time abroad or some serious exposure to language in their surroundings!  We have to be realistic about what kids CAN do!  Just because we have 3 of the 70 who began Spanish 1 who are knocking on the door of advanced at the end of 4 years doesn’t mean that is the norm!  As my friend Kristy Placido pointed out, they are actually the anomaly!  We can give them all kinds of side attention but focus our instruction toward keeping the others moving forward in proficiency!

Don’t be afraid to leave the traditional grammar syllabus behind and DON’T feel bad when it takes time to get it all figured out.  They will be hearing tons more language and will be much more engaged.  This will boost your enrollments and will make them feel confident.  Confidence leads to output and output leads to a future where our politicians and ADMIN value language because they speak one!!!


  1. What a fabulous post! I love how you explain the various ways that you weave grammar into the fabric of your classes without explicitly focusing on it. One of the reasons that I love using novels and stories is that they can be so linguistically rich. I certainly use some “authentic” resources, but often the ones that are comprehensible (infographics and the like) are not very rich linguistically. With novels, as you point out, students can see subjunctive or past tense forms, or pretty much any grammatical structure even in a level one novel/story. In my opinion the sooner that students start seeing a form like “vaya” which is SO high frequency in every day speech, the better.

    I also love that you point out that we are not trying to produce students in a middle or high school setting who are 100% accurate. That is one of the hardest mental adjustments to make as a teacher. Even though I know better, I still get frustrated when a student in my Latin 1 class uses “est ” (he is) rather than “sunt” (they are) despite tons of reps of the latter and instantaneous recognition of what the word means when they are reading or listening. Intermediate is MESSY, and that is okay.

    Thanks for a great read!

  2. I really appreciate the honesty about your past struggles – it lets me know that I’m on the right track, even if I feel like I’m not there yet. And great examples of how you’ve found a way that works for you. Thanks for the advice!

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