Two Small, Contextualized Grammar Hacks

I know what you’re saying. Grammar, Sr. Chonko. YOU are writing about grammar. And to be fair, for those who have spoken with me personally, I’m pretty vehemently against explicit grammar instruction, and talk about it quite a bit. However, grammar is, of course, an aspect of language proficiency, at least the productive skills (I would argue it has almost no bearing on interpretive skills…) And highly contextualized, highly pertinent grammar instruction sprinkled in here and there after the first semester or so certainly can be effective (I would argue it’s mostly worthless during the first few months when every word is so new….)

In this post, I share two really quick, really powerful ways to support your students with grammar in context.

  1. I just taped up the subject pronouns at the top of my white board back in March or April. I don’t remember why I did it at first. It started I think because I wanted my kids to be able to produce the first person singular form with more consistency in spontaneous speech. So, I stuck the “yo” column up there and started writing the yo-form of verbs after I asked students a question to model correct output. Well, then I think I stuck the “tú” form up there to show the difference between the question and answer. Then, I added the nosotros form, and yesterday I just said the heck with it and added the rest!


    I want to emphasize how inconspicuous of a technique this is in the flow of class. It’s not like I’m passing out a conjugation schema or anything. All I do in the moment is write the verb in the column it goes every once in awhile. I used to just group all the new vocab that came up in the daily conversation in one vocab column. This just breaks the verbs out into their own columns by subject pronoun. I don’t really talk about it much, but naturally I point out the patterns that form when I have a few verbs up there in the same column.

    It’s really a small change, but it has had a big impact in the last few weeks to a month. It is perfect grammar in context, little pushes in the right direction. Well, to be fair, I don’t know whether this new strategy is what has done it, or just the amount of input my students have gotten over the course of the year, but the accuracy of their verb conjugations in spontaneous speech has really improved recently.

    I’m convinced it has helped, though, so I thought I’d try it out with adjective agreement as well. I just put up a column for each next to all the verb columns, and I plan on writing the nouns and their adjectives up when they arise in conversation starting tomorrow. Just a gentle push, in context.

  2. The second strategy builds off the columns on the board. Like many CI practitioners, I focus on high frequency verbs: the super seven or the sweet sixteen (verbs like is, have, want, like, go, etc). And I have a gesture for each that I taught the classes back in September. Well, I kind of stumbled into this nice little grammar in context strategy where I pause right after the subject of a sentence and gesture for the verb, letting the class conjugate it correctly.

    For example, I might say in Spanish: “Class, today we [pause, gesture for “are going” and wait for the class to fill in the blank] to talk about your favorite sports.”

    In Spanish: “Clase hoy nosotros [pause and gesture for “are going” class says…”vamos” I continue with] a hablar sobre nuestros deportes favoritos.

    I do it all the time now, just to see how internalized the conjugations have gotten. Real quick. Real simple. Really contextualized. I think it’s been really effective.

One comment

  1. Great idea! I like how it looks like the order is random rather than like a verb chart would look.


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