NOTE:  This is part 8 of an ongoing series of posts explaining how to focus on the present 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.


 Enriching a Character with Background Information

Clase, ¿qué son las memorias malas que la barbacoa de llama le da a Haley?

[Class, what are the bad memories that llama barbecue give to Haley?]

The “bad memories” referred to at this point are crying out for an explanation.  It also can address Haley’s eating preferences, which we have not explained yet–part of the whole parallel story thing again here.  We know that Haley likes frog’s legs, and we know what Kylee likes llama barbecue.  Now we find out what Haley does NOT like, we double-back on the parallel story and explain it a bit more.  After much discussion and many questions, we come up with this short back story.  This is a rabbit trail, a short story within the main story that gives some background to a character or situation.  It works nicely and naturally here. 

The main story is in the present, but it is entirely logical to give an explanation of something that happened a long time ago in the past tense.  This is natural use of language and it fits well here, so we go with it.  This mini-story or explanation was handled with scores of questions and verifications just like a regular story.  It took about 20 minutes.  It could take you more or less depending on how long you want to stretch it out.

This side story has nothing to do with the stated objective of learning the subjunctive, but it is fun and it reminds the students that not EVERYTHING is subjunctive.  They need reminders like this because of the tendency to over-generalize when they are learning something new, so this back story fits within our overall course objective of creating confident, fluent speakers of Spanish, so we included it.  You can omit rabbit trails like this if you like, but I think they are fun from time to time because they add color, flavor and humor to the big story and we are always trying to make the input compelling so that students will get caught up in the content and acquire the language.

Haley le explica a Marcus que hace muchos años, ella había tenido un animal especial que se llamaba Jorge.  Jorge era una llama y a Haley le gustaba mucho.  Ella pasaba mucho tiempo con Jorge.    Jorge era muy especial a ella.  Haley siempre le daba comida, le hablaba y le decía todos sus problemas.  Jorge nunca le decía nada, pero parecía que él siempre le escuchaba a ella.  Jorge era su mejor amigo.

[Haley explains to Marcus that many years ago, she had had a special animal whose name was Jorge.  Jorge was a llama and Haley really liked him a lot.  She spent a lot of time with Jorge.  Jorge was very special to her.  Haley always gave him food, talked to him and told him all of her problems.  Jorge never said anything, but it seemed that he always listened to her. Jorge was her best friend.]

Pero un día cuando Haley no estaba en casa, Kylee tuvo mucha hambre.  Ella siempre comía barbacoa de llama, y no había barbacoa de llama en el refrigerador.  Así que Kylee vio a Jorge y se lo comió.

[But one day when Haley was not at home, Kylee was very hungry.  She always ate llama barbecue, and there was no llama barbecue in the refrigerator.  So Kylee saw Jorge and ate him all up.]

Cuando Haley llegó a casa, ella no vio a Jorge.  Kylee le explicó que se lo había comido y le pidió perdón a su hermana.

[When Haley got home, she did not see Jorge.  Kylee explained that she had eaten him and asked her sister’s forgiveness.]

Haley pensó por un momento y decidió que Kylee realmente no era una hermana mala, solamente era una hermana hambrienta, y por eso ella la perdonó. 

[Haley thought for a moment and decided that Kylee really was not a bad sister, she was just a hungry sister, and so she forgave her.]

Pero todavía a Haley le duele pensar en las llamas porque las hace pensar en Jorge.  Por eso ella no quiere comer barbacoa de llama.  ¡Es obvio!

[But it still hurts Haley to think about llamas because they make her think about Jorge.  That’s why she does not want to eat llama barbecue.]

We stop again and have students pair up so they can tell one another the mini-story/interlude.  I tell them that I want them to be sure they have Haley’s reasoning down.  This gives them a break from hearing me and gives me a break from talking.