Card talk is one of the easiest activities to give your students more comprehensible input in language class, no matter what your class structure looks like now!

Card Talk

This is one of the most simple lessons that you could ever do (and I’m sure that many of you have done it), but it is so effective and so much fun! Carol Gaab used it as her introduction at our AFLA Conference this past year, and we ended up with some hilarious stories about where different attendees had gone during the previous summer. This makes a GREAT first day of school plan for returning students that have not yet learned past tense.

You might know it as…CARD TALK!

Use Card Talk to talk about where students went and what they did in the past--perfect for coming back from a weekend or summer vacation!

Target Structures (from SOMOS 2 Unit 1, Lesson 1):

  1. fue – s/he went
  2. el año pasado – last year (this could be any time in the past…I did ‘last year’ so that students had lots of interesting places to choose from…you could do ‘last weekend’, ‘yesterday’, ‘last summer’, whatever!)


  1. Have students draw a sketch of someplace that they went last year (or whenever your time period is). They should not include words on the drawing.
  2. Introduce the vocabulary to your students.
  3. Choose one drawing that looks interesting or ambiguous. Walk around and show it to the class, asking ‘¿A dónde fue __ el año pasado?” (Where did (student’s name) go last year?) Ask the question over and over as you slowly walk around the room.
  4. After everyone has seen the sketch, take suggestions. With each suggestion, ask the student that you are talking about if that is where s/he went (so that you get reps of fuiste and fui–you went, I went). Keep having students guess what it is until EITHER they get the correct answer or a creative, interesting answer.
  5. If the answer is boring, pick a new picture and repeat the process.
  6. If the answer is interesting or it seems that you can build a compelling story around it, start asking for details, and develop a story or vignette.
  7. Do a reading (see my example below).
  8. (Optional) After we had spent two days going over the students’ sketches, I scanned in the picture that solicited the most interest from the class creating a writing form (see below) and had students write their own explanation of the picture using at least 50 words. This was a writing assessment, and I used my Free Write rubric to grade it (I pasted it onto the back of the paper).
The first sketch that I picked up today was a boy that went to his own house. It wasn’t going anywhere, so we moved on.
The second one was a girl that went to the movies. We asked who she went with, what was their relationship, what did the person do when she got to the movies, etc. We ended up with an awesome vignette with the girl going to the movies with her boyfriend who kissed her during a romantic moment in the movie, but she didn’t kiss him back. She walked out and he ran after her, only to ask if she would re-fill the popcorn.
We will do a short reading of the story (with some twists) tomorrow and look at more of the drawings tomorrow to get more reps of the target structures. In the process, my students are getting lots of exposure to regular preterite tense verbs. Hooray!!

Here is an example of a reading based on one of my students’ cards:

Hay un estudiante en mi clase de geometría que se llama Armando. Armando es un muchacho muy interesante porque fue a Guatemala el año pasado. Él fue con su familia para ayudar a gente pobre. Cuando yo le pregunté, «Armando, ¿por qué fuiste a Guatemala para ayudar a gente pobre? Hay gente pobre en los Estados Unidos», él respondió, «Yo fui a Guatemala porque quería practicar el español».  Entonces, le pregunté, «Entonces, ¿por qué no fuiste a Guatemala este año también?» Él dijo, «No fui a Guatemala este año porque no tenía mucho dinero. Usé todo mi dinero el año pasado». Yo creo que Armando es el chico más simpático de mi escuela.


There is a student in my geometry class named Armando. Armando is a very interesting guy because he went to Guatemala last year. He went with his family to help poor people. When I asked him, “Armando, why did you go to Guatemala to help poor people? There are poor people in the U.S.!”, he responded, “I went to Guatemala because I wanted to practice Spanish”. Then, I asked him, “Then why didn’t you go to Guatemala this year too?” He said, “I didn’t go to Guatemala this year because I didn’t have much money. I used all of my money last year”. I think that Armando is the nicest guy at my school.
Card talk is one of the easiest activities to give your students more comprehensible input in language class, no matter what your class structure looks like now!

26 thoughts on “Card Talk

      • Jim says:

        Hi so I just came back from a TPRS conference in San Antonio. To be perfectly honest I want to dive in but I don’t know how to structure the lesson plans . Can you tell me a great site to go to that breaks down the experts lesson plans from day 1 to day___________. I would love to do what you guys do. Thanks

  1. Cindy says:

    As always, I love your ideas (and Carol’s). In re-reading this, however, a question came to mind. What is the difference between your “target structures” and “vocabulary?” Does the vocabulary come from the questions you are going to ask such as ” A donde fue…….el ano pasado? (Sorry, don’t know how to do correct Spanish punctuation on an iPad!)

  2. Martina Bex says:

    They are the same thing–sorry to confuse by using different terms! When I said “Introduce vocabulary”, I was referring to presenting the Target structures to students. Just trying to make your brain even more crazy with school starting, haha!

    • Cindy says:

      Thanks so much! I don’t think it is possible to make my brain even MORE crazy. It is on the fast track there already! Good luck in your new situation. So glad you get to be with your boys! They grow so fast.
      May God give you wisdom, peace, rest and a lot of fun times this year at school and home!

  3. Dee says:

    How do your students do the optional writing if this is one of the first lessons they have on the preterite? My level twos have done a short intro in their level 1 class last year, but won’t remember enough to write a mini essay about a picture. What do you suggest?

  4. Dana says:

    Thank you for all your ideas! I have the same question as Dee. Do you do some other units before doing Fue?
    Also, I noticed that Spanish 1 centers on stories, while your Spanish 2 centers on grammar. Is this just because you haven’t posted the Spanish 2 curriculum map as thoroughly as the Spanish 1? Understandably, it takes time. So many of us that refer to your website for ideas are impressed with how much you share. Thank you for all you do.

    • Martina Bex says:

      Fue is really the first story that I do with the past tense.

      I have not posted hardly any of my Spanish 2 curriculum–some day, right?! And you are right–my Spanish 1 units are mostly cultural storytelling units while my Spanish 2 units (the ones that I’ve posted, anyway) are grammar-based storytelling units. This is just because I needed to make myself focus on the past tenses so that I covered them in way that was comprehensive enough to give them success in high school Spanish classes. After I cover the grammar in those beginning Level 2 units, we move into text-based units (like the El que se enoja, pierde unit) and novels (like El Nuevo Houdini).

      • nancy says:


        With the beginning of the new semester quickly approaching I was hoping to do this on the first day as you suggested. My Spanish Ones that are coming into my Spanish 2’s have not had any past tense. I can see how all forms of “went” is used but how can I have them use other verbs in the past tense since they have not had it? How were your students able to do a story without any previous past tense instruction other than went?? I’m stuck. I really like the whole idea and am trying to incorporate it.


    • Martina Bex says:

      I am trying to remember the gesture and my sister in law is looking at me like I’m crazy, haha! I think I just do a thumbs up and motion it backward over my shoulder.

      As for the question about other past tense verbs, students are easily able to interpret them because many of them sound the same as their present tense counterparts; in context, they are able to understand well. For the bizarre irregular forms, just give them translations when you use the words. Write them on the board and use point and pause. Producing the forms is not going to be pretty, and it shouldn’t be after just two days. This would just be a formative writing assessment. Use lots of pop-up grammar throughout the lesson so that students can begin to recognize patterns in formation.

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