May 17 2007

Grammar Lessons With a Story-Based Edge

Lesson description: If you're like most high-school graduates, you have the following memory of grammar instruction in foreign language class: rote repetition of sounds, seemingly artificial and nonsensical. Teachers attached confusing rules to these sounds, leaving you in fear that you would break them any time you attempted to use the language.

Grammar lessons usually invoke groans from students and painstaking measures from teachers. Research shows that experts find language difficult to learn when it's out of context, broken into bits and pieces, and perceived as having little social value. The objective of this lesson is present tense conjugation, but it is hidden in a story-based, problem-solving challenge.

In this lesson, students are presented the opportunity for heroism, saving the planet from aliens by cracking the aliens' language code. As the understanding of verb conjugation is primarily concerned with verb endings, the alien language in this case is Spanish, only backward. Start with an animated story, called salbah lonapse? and the story guide to preview the lesson. While it serves as a fun cautionary tale to promote the learning of foreign languages, students are purposely brought into the story to save the day. Following the story, use the Introductions worksheet to review basic greetings, then the animated Alien Interview to teach present tense conjugation.

Subject Area: This lesson works best with a lower-level understanding of Spanish, with a prerequisite basic understanding of introductions in the language.

Standards: The Languages Other Than English curriculum standards consist of communication and culture. Students need to be able to communicate through listening, reading, writing and speaking on various topics in the target language.

This lesson encompasses reading, writing and grammar. The teacher could include listening comprehension questions and speaking (see below) to complete the skills building.

Resources: The Internet -- You may use a projector for the class to view the presentation, or have students access it individually online. Print the worksheets available on the Web site.

Teaching Tips: Make the Alien Interview a race and the winning team gets Snickers bars (that's what the alien has with him). Give each team one question at a time; they cannot advance to the next question without correctly identifying the answer and the grammar rule associated with it.

Extend the lesson's objective by creating note cards with common verbs in Spanish on one side and English definitions on the other. Pull a note card and state an example of the conjugated verb in English. The first person to write the correctly conjugated verb in Spanish forward and backward wins. Repeat to keep score. Then, add details to the verbs and the first person to say the sentence correctly in Spanish wins.

Katie Hanifin is a teacher at Canastota (N.Y.) Junior/Senior High School.