(A tumbleweed rolls past and Western music intensifies)
As language teachers, I am sure we have all had at least one moment like this.
You enter your classroom, put a forced smile on your face and say you are going to be teaching grammar that day.
Your students get a mild heart attack, roll their eyes and hope for the best.
It’s awful. For you, who will be spoon-feeding them nightmarish grammar concepts during the next hour; and for them, who will be yawning and looking at their watches, praying mentally for the class to come to an end.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way at all!
You can make a grammar class interesting and enjoyable; you can have fun doing what you love, teaching, while seeing how your students are also enjoying what’s going on in the class.
And the perfect way to do it is by introducing games to spice up that boring grammar.
Why Verb Games Are a Must for Every Teacher
Let’s face it. Unless one of your students is a grammar freak like I’ve been since I was age 10, no one is going to enjoy a dry, boring verb conjugation class if it’s done the traditional way.
By introducing a little bit (or a whole lot!) of fun to it, both you and your pupils will be able to get the most out of the lesson, and time will fly without them even noticing.
So, how can verb conjugation games be helpful in a language class?
For starters, your students will not get bored. After almost 18 years teaching, I have learned boredom is a learner’s worst friend, and this is especially true when it comes to language learning. No student would choose a long list of endings over a fun charades game. Adding fun to the topic is just what you need.
Additionally, you will get less stressed and desperate. Do you know that feeling of helplessness and desperation when you are trying to explain something to your students and their brains just block the information? You have to repeat the exact same thing with slightly different words over a dozen times, only to get a couple of them who understand what you mean. Verb conjugation games delete this feeling from the class equation. When people are having fun, they tend to enjoy and understand much more of what they’re doing, leaving you stress-free and willing to continue teaching instead of hitting your head against a wall.
Finally, the way games introduce different topics in your classroom can be personalized ad infinitum. We will be focusing on verb conjugation games today, but just change a couple of things in the games below and you will be able to use them with any other topic you can think of. With games, the possibilities are virtually endless!
How Verb Games Differ from Traditional Lessons
Allow me to start by saying what the term traditional really means to me.
A traditional way of teaching verb conjugations is by giving your students the endings of the tense you want to focus on and asking them to conjugate different verbs in all the persons. Granted, this is something that will need to be done at some point anyway, but if you present every single tense in the exact same way and ask them to repeatedly do the exact same thing with 20 different verbs, they will get bored sooner than later.
A lot of people tend to think if you teach something the traditional way, there has to be some kind of boring component to it. While this is not always the case, it is true that when you teach your students verb conjugations in the traditional way, they will probably get bored after 15 minutes or less.
However, if you add a little bit of fun every couple of classes and start using some of the games in this post, they will have that entertainment factor that will make them want to engage more.
As a result, they will not only have more fun, but also learn more in less time. Students will not have the feeling that they are memorizing endings and doing repetitive, dull conjugation exercises for hours. Instead, they will be learning in a more practical way that makes them think more and also conjugate verbs while having a lot of fun.
That is exactly the advantage of using games in your classroom. At the end of the day, your learners will have done the same they would have done if you had just given them the endings and the list of verbs they have to conjugate. But since the processes of learning, thinking and conjugating are so different when playing games, they will leave the class with the feeling that they have really learned something interesting in a fun and exciting way. This will make them look forward to wanting more, and we teachers know that is the perfect approach to learning a language.
Because of this, I have made a list of 10 games you can use during your verb conjugation classes.
Feel free to use them and modify them as you see fit. Most of these games can be played with practically any group at almost any language level, but I will be adding some modifications here and there so that you have more options for intermediate and advanced students.
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Get ‘Em Moving with These 10 Spanish Verb Conjugation Games!
1. Conjugation Ball
The only thing you need for this game is a small ball and a bunch of students.
There’s no previous preparation involved, and you don’t have to divide your students into groups or make them move around the class. It really doesn’t get easier than this!
Start by holding the ball in front of your students and picking one of them. Throw the ball so that the student catches it. When this happens, tell him or her to conjugate a verb in a specific person in a specific tense. For example:
- Second-person singular of the present simple of the verb correr (to run).
- First-person plural of the preterite of the verb beber (to drink).
- Third-person plural of the conditional tense of the verb despertarse (to wake up).
If the student gets it right, they can choose the next contestant, throw them the ball and ask them to conjugate a verb in a specific person and tense. When a student does not answer correctly, the ball goes back to you and the student gets eliminated. The goal of the game is to be “the last man standing.”
There are different ways in which you can personalize and modify this game depending on the group you are teaching:
- With beginner students, you can use only regular verbs and practice just a few tenses.
- For intermediate students, add irregular verbs and all the tenses of the indicative mood.
- Advanced students can also have the subjunctive and the imperative.
The possibilities with this game are practically endless, because you can personalize it to fit the specific needs of your students every single time. And all you need is a ball!
2. Verb Lottery
This is another fun and easy game your students will love. You just need a big empty jar or a small trash bin and a group of students who want to make things hard for their fellow learners.
Ask your students to write in five individual small pieces of paper five different people, tenses and infinitives. For example:
- Third-person singular, present perfect, cantar (to sing).
- Second-person plural, imperfect, vestirse (to get dressed).
- First-person plural, present simple, ir (to go).
Fold the pieces of paper and put them in the jar. Pick a student and ask them to take one piece of paper from the jar and give you an answer. If they answer correctly, they continue in the game and get to pick the next lucky winner. If they fail, you pick the next student. Go on until there is only one winner.
You can modify this game for different groups, according to their level (see the first game on our list).
3. Person, Tense, Infinitive!
This game is very similar to the previous two, but it works the other way around.
Now it is you who tells a student a conjugated form of a verb (for example comeremos—we will eat), and they have to tell you the person, tense and infinitive of the verb you have just given them.
So for comeremos, the answer would be: “First-person plural of the future simple of the verb comer (to eat).”
This game may be a little bit difficult for beginner learners of Spanish who are still struggling with concepts such as person, tense or infinitive, so either make sure they know what they are beforehand, or use this game only with intermediate and advanced students.
The way of making this game more challenging is, once again, by adding the subjunctive and the imperative to it.
We all know and enjoy the Twenty Questions game, but not a lot of us have used it to teach verb conjugation to our students.
The rules of the game are very simple. Start by choosing a conjugated form of a verb. Depending on the tense you are teaching or the level of your students, you will have more or less to choose from. Go big, if you can!
Once you have chosen the conjugated form (let’s use bailé—I danced), write the infinitive on the blackboard and let your students, in turns, ask you questions about it. Their goal is to guess exactly the person and tense you have chosen.
If your students are beginners, allow them to ask in English, but for intermediate and advanced learners, use only Spanish. The questions can only be answered with Sí or No, so make sure they understand this beforehand and ask suitable questions.
If you are playing this game with them for the first time, give them a couple of sample questions so that they get the hang of it. Here you have some:
- ¿Pertenece al indicativo? (Does it belong to the indicative mood?)
- ¿Está conjugado en imperfecto? (Is it conjugated in the imperfect tense?)
- ¿Es una persona singular o plural? (Is it a singular or a plural person?)
- ¿Es una segunda persona? (Is it a second person?)
Every time a student asks a question, you have to answer Sí or No and give them the chance to give you an answer. The first student to guess the correct answer has to choose the next verb form and will be the one answering their classmates’ questions.
This game is one of my favorites. It needs almost no preparation, and it will make your students have the time of their lives while they learn.
Write different conjugated verbs in pieces of papers and give two of them to each student (one if the group is rather big).
Each student will have to show the conjugated verb to his classmates without uttering a single word. The person who guesses it correctly gets to show their conjugated verb.
Students have to guess not only the infinitive, but also the person and the tense it is conjugated in. To make it more challenging, give a 2-minute limit to guess the word. And remember… they can only speak if they raise their hands and talk in Spanish!
In order to play Jeopardy, the only thing you need is a Jeopardy board you can make yourself with an A4 sheet of paper and a set of prepared questions (look at some examples below).
You can personalize the board to fit your needs, so depending on the tense or tenses you want to practice with your students, you can have fewer or more categories and questions.
The categories can be different verb tenses or different moods, while the questions can range from fill-in-the-blank exercises to Yes/No questions. The sky is the limit.
Write each question and four possible answers in a piece of paper and place them face down on the board. The students can’t see the questions, just the categories and the value of each question. If you want to make the game even more challenging, do not offer any possible answers, just the questions.
If you are not familiar with this game, you should bear in mind that each question has a value, and the bigger the value, the more difficult the question should be. You will obviously not be awarding dollars but points, and the winner is the person or group that gets more points at the end.
In turns, each student or group will choose a category and a question. They can choose the category and value they want as long as the question has not been answered yet. If they answer correctly, they get the number of points the question is worth. If they don’t, the next person or group gets the chance to answer and get the points. If no one is able to answer correctly, there are no points awarded for that question.
The person or group that gives the correct answer keeps the turn and gets to choose the next category and value. The game goes on until all the questions are answered.
If you need a little bit of inspiration, here you have some sample questions:
- El niño _______ (comer, imperfect) verduras. (The boy was eating vegetables.)
- Primera persona del singular del pretérito perfecto del verbo caminar. (First-person singular of the present perfect of the verb to walk.)
- ¿Cuál es la segunda persona singular del imperativo del verbo ir? (What is the second-person singular of the imperative of the verb to go?)
- ¿Es pedir un verbo irregular en presente? (Is pedir an irregular verb in the present tense?)
7. The Commands Game
This game is perfect for teaching or reviewing the imperative, but you can change its name if you want your students to practice another tense.
Start by writing a list of infinitives on the blackboard. Pick a student and ask them (in Spanish) to do the action of the first infinitive (for example, if the infinitive is abrir—to open, tell them Abre tu libro—Open your book). If the student opens their book, they get a point. Next, that same student needs to pick a different infinitive from the list and ask, again in Spanish, one of their classmates to do something. If the student picking the infinitive conjugates the verb correctly, they get an additional point, and if the other student does the action correctly, they get a point and have to choose another infinitive and another classmate. The game ends when all the infinitives have been used. The person with the highest number of points at the end is the winner.
8. Indicative or Subjunctive?
This game is for rather advanced students, but you can change its name to Preterite or Imperfect, or even Present Simple or Present Perfect and use it with your beginner and intermediate learners.
For starters, write sentences on individual sheets on paper (one sentence per student). Each sentence must be lacking a conjugated verb, and the answer can be any person and tense of the indicative or the subjunctive. The sentences can be similar to these:
- Quiero que tú _______. (I want you to _______.)
- _______ comprar unas naranjas. (I _______ to buy some oranges.)
- Mamá y yo _______ al cine ayer. (Mum and I ________ to the cinema yesterday.)
Next, write each answer on a piece of paper and give one to each student. Stick the sentences on different parts of the classroom and give your students 10 minutes to find the sentence for which the answer they have is correct.
It can happen that two or more students put their answers on the same question. This is allowed, although only one of them will be correct.
During a 60-minute class, this can be done around 5 to 7 times. You can use different sentences and answers each time or keep the same ones and just shuffle the answers so that the students get a different one each time.
9. The Irregular Verbs Game
This game is for advanced students who already have a big pool of irregular verbs to choose from.
You don’t need to prepare any materials and the students don’t even have to move from their chairs.
Pick an irregular verb in the infinitive and choose a student. Tell them the infinitive and a tense and give them 5 seconds to tell you which kind of irregularity that verb has in that tense. If the student guesses correctly, they can pick an infinitive and a tense and choose a classmate who has to do the same.
When a student fails to answer correctly, they stay out of the game. The goal is to be the only person surviving.
I normally don’t use games that make students stay out of the game because they tend to get bored or out of place. This game is better used in smaller groups, where the time until each new round starts is short and students don’t have to wait for too long while being idle.
10. Verb Battleship
I discovered this version of the original Battleship game around seven years ago and I have been in love with it since.
Sit your students in pairs and ask them to draw 6×10 grids. Outside each of the 6 columns they have to write one of the 6 persons of a verb, and outside the 10 lines they should write 10 verbs. Each couple can choose their own verbs, but you can also choose to write 10 verbs on the blackboard so that all the students practice the same verbs.
Next, give one tense to each couple. Ideally, each couple will have a different tense, but if you need to repeat any tense, make sure the couples are far enough not to overhear each other.
When all the couples have their verbs and their tenses, they can start placing their battleship on the grid (each member using their own grid). They need to place:
- 4-square boat x1
- 3-square boats x2
- 2-square boats x2
- 1-square boat x1
The members of each couple will try to sink the other member’s battleship, but in order to do that they will have to conjugate the verb corresponding to the line they have chosen in the person of the column they have chosen.
For example, if a student wants to choose position 2×7 (where 2 in the second person singular and 7 is the verb in line 7), they will have to conjugate that verb in the second person singular in the tense you have given them. If a student hits an opponent’s battleship, they can go on attacking until they either miss the battleship or get their answer wrong. The person to sink all the opponent’s boats first wins.
If you want your students to play more rounds, make sure they use different verbs and a different tense each time.
And that’s all for today!
These are just 10 examples of how teaching verb conjugation can be fun and entertaining.
You don’t need any extra material in order to prepare the class, and you get the rush of being able to surprise them twice, firstly by saying they will be learning verb conjugation, and secondly by letting them know they will not be doing it the traditional way.
You can be sure your students will thoroughly enjoy their time. They will not realize they are even learning or reviewing, and they will definitely remember you are that cool teacher. Stay curious and, as always, happy teaching!
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