NOTE:  This is part 11 of an ongoing series describing how to focus on the subjunctive with a story-based approach and compelling comprehensible input.

The example in from a Spanish 3 class, but the principles apply to any language and any level.


The first story scenario was part of a series of stories that can be used to teach the present subjunctive with themes that are designed to be compelling to high school students.  Many of the stories have relationship themes since that is so interesting to them. 

The teacher throws out the story idea and begins asking the student actors and the rest of the students in the class about it.  It is the cute and creative answers of the students, supported by consolidation, rephrasing and guidance by the teacher that makes the resulting stories compelling.  The idea here is that when the input is compelling enough students acquire the language with ease:

“Compelling input appears to eliminate the need for motivation, a conscious desire to improve.  When you get compelling input, you acquire whether you are interested in improving or not.”  

Stephen Krashen, The Compelling (Not Just Interesting) Input Hypothesis,

The first three story scenarios use the subjunctive with noun clauses, specifically with verbs of influence (verbs like: quiere que…, prefiere que…, desea que…, Ojalá que…). These are used to begin to give students a feel for the subjunctive.

Story Scenario #1:  El chico con dos problemas

Focus structure: (subjunctive with noun clauses, specifically with verbs of influence) quiere que vaya

Story Idea:  Two girls each want a boy to go someplace different.

Story Scenario #2:  La chica que quiere tener un novio nuevo

Focus structures:  quiere tener (to contrast with subjunctive meaning)quiere que sea; quiere que tenga; prefiere que no…; ojalá que…

Story Idea:  A girl wants to have a new boyfriend with certain qualities.  She looks but can’t find one because her expectations are so high.

Story Scenario #3:  Buscando un esposo

Focus structure:  quiere que sea; quiere que tenga and others; prefiere que

Story Idea:  A lady puts an ad online that has a list of qualities she wants in a husband.

Story Scenario #4:  Consejos para el chico nuevo

Focus structure:  (Subjunctive with adjective clauses) es importante que…, es importante que no…

Story idea: A student is showing a new boy around the school and giving him advice.

Story Scenario #5:  ¿Para qué lo haces?

Focus structure: (Subjunctive with adverbial clauses) para que…   in order that…, so that…

Story Idea:  A student that thinks a lot wonders what the ultimate reasons are that she does what she does (a la Aristotle’s description of all human motivation).

Story Scenario #6:  ¡Lo dudo!

Focus structure: (Subjunctive with Doubt)  dudo que lo haga; no sé si venga

Story Idea:  A skeptical and pessimistic kid that doubts everything has an optimistic friend that tells him everything is going to be fine.

The first three stories are structured to introduce the subjunctive in noun clauses.  In the first story we limit mainly to one verb of influence, quiereFor the second story, we still mainly limit the verb to quiere also, but vary the verbs in the subordinate clauses to help students learn other present subjunctives as they come up.  There is a big poster that explains the form of the present subjunctive on the wall.  It basically says: 

“Use the “yo” form in the present and change the ending, -a to -e, and -e to -a.”

We go over the form orally and most students normally grasp the formation rather quickly.  If some students in a class seem to be slow on this, I have a worksheet and accompanying pretest and test that can help to clarify it–BUT (big but here) I do not believe they will acquire the form this way–they will only recognize it.  

They need the form, but the meaning and use are the crucial things.  Almost always every single student understands the meaning of a subjunctive verb if it is used in context.  They can recognize it, but they cannot use it correctly without a lot of exposure.  They need to hear or read it used in interesting contexts hundreds of times before they can reasonably be expected to use it correctly and confidently on their own.

Other verbs of influence (insiste en que…, recomienda que…, prefiere que…, le dice que vaya, etc.) can be used as needed while telling a class story, but I usually do not add those early on.  We are not exactly studying all of the subjunctive triggers.  We are giving examples of certain forms so that students can begin to get a feeling for how the subjunctive is used.  We want it to sound right to them.  The idea is to give them enough experience with it through the set up in these stories that they get the feeling for it.  We then continue to use the subjunctive naturally in stories as needed the rest of the year.

Students are hearing and reading the subjunctive for the first time in Spanish 3 classes.  They have been hearing it for some time, even since the first semester of Spanish one.  Some students are even using it spontaneously without even realizing it.

All of these stories will also need to be supported by a strong reading program.  Krashen describes a study in which free reading was a better predictor of competence in the use of the Spanish subjunctive than formal study and time spent in a Spanish-speaking country.

Even with these stories, lots of repetitions and constant micro-grammar lessons in class, students will not get the subjunctive without also doing additional reading.  They just need that extra exposure to the language through reading to get it.