Imperfect Endings Spanish: Games for Teaching Imperfect Tense in Spanish

Learning Spanish verb forms doesn't have to be all work.

Imperfect verb forms in Spanish are among the easiest forms for English-speaking Spanish students to learn, but among the trickiest to use correctly. While imperfect verb forms are almost always regular -- only three verbs in Spanish have irregular imperfective forms -- mastering their use can be challenging because English has no equivalent tense; the Spanish imperfective is used in many, but not all, of the same contexts as English simple past tense. Games, however, are an effective way to make learning the Spanish imperfect fun and memorable. These following lesson plans will ensure that students are able to move beyond the present tense and start talking in the past tense using past actions with ease.

1 A Team Contest

Divide the Spanish class into two teams, and instruct each team to devise a list of questions or problems on imperfective verb forms or usage. Check the questions and answers before starting the game. Relevant questions can include verbs to conjugate in the imperfect (for Spanish I students) or determining if the imperfect is the correct form to use to express a past event in a sample sentence (for Spanish II students). You can even just quiz students on the verb endings without using actual verb conjugations. For example, listing the AR verb endings: (-aba, -abas, -aba, -ábamos, -abais, -aban) or the ER/IR verbs (ía, -ías, -ía, -íamos, -íais, -ían). Knowing these endings really well makes it much easier to conjugate any word, from estaba to tenía, íbamos to éramos, veía to iba. Make sure to take out vosotros if you’re not teaching it.

Each team takes turns asking the other a question. The answering team gets a point if they answer correctly; otherwise, the asking team gets a point. The team that gets the most points wins.

Vocabulary Builder

2 Spanish Baseball

To play this game, divide the class into two teams. Arrange four chairs into a baseball diamond configuration, and line up one of the teams behind the designated home plate. As each team member goes to bat, ask him to answer a question involving the form or use of the imperfective tense. If the student answers correctly, he advances to first base. If the answer is incorrect, the student is out, and returns to the end of the line behind the home plate. Each team is allowed three incorrect answers before the other team gets to play. Team members already on base advance to the next base whenever a question is answered correctly. If a player advances around the diamond and back to home plate, the team earns a point. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

3 A Picture Description Game

This game is best suited for Spanish II classes, focusing on the uses, rather than forms, of the Spanish imperfective and Spanish verbs. Have pairs of students work together. Give each student a storyboard depicting an event or sequence of events, such as a man seated in a room followed by a woman entering the room and the man leaving. Instruct the students not to show their storyboards to each other. You should be able to find printable storyboards online using different verb tenses. Then have them describe their storyboards to each other in Spanish, using appropriate forms of the imperfect and preterite tenses. After they hear each other's descriptions, have the pairs try to determine if they have the same storyboards or not. Because imperfect tense describes continuing, interrupted or habitual past activities, while the preterite describes non-repeated, finished events in the past, similar storyboards with slight variations will need to be described with different tenses.

4 Online Games to Teach The Imperfective Tense

Online teaching games can help students review imperfective forms and usage outside the classroom. Many of these, such as those offered on the Spanish Language and Culture site hosted by Barbara Kuczun Nelson, are interactive versions of traditional fill-in-the-blanks exercises and require students to produce either correct conjugated imperfect forms or determine if imperfect tense is appropriate to use in a given context. These games, like classroom games, provide learners with instant feedback and, in some cases, detailed explanations of right and wrong possible answers.

Cuando sus alumnos practican el imperfecto todos los días, ¡ellos lo sabrán siempre!

5 Quick translations:

preterite = pretérito

imperfect = imperfecto

to be = estar

to have = tener

Felicia Lee is a freelance writer/editor and published author with over 15 years of experience. Her work has appeared in publications including the "Los Angeles Times" and on Felicia holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in English from Stanford and a Doctor of Philosophy in linguistics from University of California, Los Angeles.