Using the Subjunctive to “Solve” Environmental Problems

Several of our blog posts have been bigger picture recommendations for how Extempore can help you more effectively and efficiently assess student learning. Well, this time, let’s try looking at how a classroom activity with a specific learning goal in mind can help improve speaking (and listening) skills.

In the second semester of my high school Spanish 2 class, we spend a lot of time working our way through the subjunctive, a verb mood used in a variety of contexts in Spanish. Although my students generally understand the basic concept quickly, they need time to learn the contexts in which the subjunctive appears. But because the subjunctive occurs in oftentimes very specific conditions, it can be difficult to trigger its spontaneous usage, especially when practicing speaking aloud. This is where Extempore can help us!

Lately, I’ve been introducing the subjunctive (and the expressions that trigger the subjunctive) in a unit on the environment and ecology. It works well because we encounter expressions of emotion, such as es triste que… (“it’s sad that…”) or me molesta que… (“it bothers me that…”) that are useful when talking about air pollution, deforestation, global warming, and other problems that affect the planet. We also learn impersonal expressions such as es necesario que… (“it’s necessary that…”), es urgente que… (“it’s urgent that…”), or es una buena idea que… (“it’s a good idea that…”), which similarly can be used to talk about these global issues.

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To get my students to put it all together (i.e. the ecology-related vocabulary, the subjunctive trigger phrases, and the subjunctive itself), I record a handful of prompts in which I state out loud my personal feelings about a problem affecting the environment, like the following:

  • Es ridículo que los políticos no hagan leyes para controlar el calentamiento global. (“It’s ridiculous that the politicians don’t make laws to control global warming.”)
  • Me molesta que los animales estén en peligro de extinción. (“It bothers me that animals are in danger of extinction.”)

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Then after students have heard what I have to say (thus reinforcing listening comprehension of key grammar and vocabulary), I ask that they respond in Spanish, giving a “solution” to these problems. To do so, I ask that they use impersonal expressions:

  • Para frenar el calentamiento global, es importante que nosotros reduzcamos las emisiones de coches. (“In order to slow down global warming, it’s important that we reduce car emissions.”)
  • Es necesario que protejamos los animales en peligro de extinción. (“It’s necessary that we protect animals in danger of extinction.”)

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Of course, you can add or remove details to make the activity more or less challenging for your students. For example, here’s another way to do it: Ask the students to complete the activity twice–once at the beginning and once at the end of the unit. At the beginning, allow students time to review or scan the vocabulary before they provide a response. But, at the end of the unit, as a review before a test or some other summative assessment, repeat the activity, but don’t give the students prep time. In other words, they’ll need to provide a response right away, completely spontaneously. It should be a bit easier for them now, since they will have been working with these topics for some time.

This approach has been very successful for my students, and I certainly hope it can help you and your students, too!