Spanish Preterite Tense

Teacher Guide by Lourdes Fernandez

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our Spanish Category!

Student Activities for Preterite Include:

Oh, the exciting preterite tense! There’s nothing quite as fun for language students than mastering a past tense in Spanish, el pretérito. One of the many ways to express actions in the past, the preterite tense is full of exceptions and categories of verb conjugations.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!

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There is much for students to learn, memorize, and practice when it comes to the preterite tense. It is typically helpful for students to think of preterite verbs in distinct categories and then to learn and apply the rules for that category. Below are the various categories (new stems and verbs with “y” and “í” are not complete lists, only some of the most common). The new stems category on its own is fairly complex, and thus in that storyboard template you will find more details on how it works.

Spanish Preterite Verb Categories

Category 1 Category 2 Category 3 Category 4 Category 5 Category 6 Category 7 Category 8
Regular -AR Regular -ER/IR -CAR, -GAR, -ZAR Ser & Ir Dar & Ver Present Tense Boot Verbs New Stems Verbs with “y” & “í”
  • -aste
  • -amos
  • -asteis
  • -aron
  • -iste
  • -ió
  • -imos
  • -isteis
  • -ieron
  • -CAR → -qué
  • -GAR → -gué
  • -ZAR → - cé
  • fui
  • fuiste
  • fue
  • fuimos
  • fuisteis
  • fueron
  • di / vi
  • diste / viste
  • dio / vio
  • dimos / vimos
  • disteis / visteis
  • dieron / vieron
    -AR & -ER boot verbs:
    don’t change!

    -IR boot verbs:
  • o → u
  • e → i
    • only in 3rd person!
  • tener
  • estar
  • poder
  • hacer
  • poner
  • andar
  • venir
  • querer
  • saber
  • caber
  • traer
  • decir
  • traducir
  • conducir
  • caer
  • creer
  • leer
  • oír

After memorizing the categories and patterns, students will need a lot of practice. The following storyboard templates and activities are designed to help students practice and internalize these categories and patterns, as well as put the preterite forms into context with an eye towards their meanings.

Preterite Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Spanish Preterite - Regular Verbs

Activity Includes: basic to intermediate vocabulary

Although the preterite tense has many categories and irregularities, there are also many verbs that fall into the regular -AR and regular -ER/-IR categories. The following storyboard activity is meant to help students practice using this regular pattern and sets of Spanish preterite endings. Have students select the traditional storyboard design and include six cells, one for each verb conjugation. Students could either separate -AR verbs and -ER/-IR verbs into two separate storyboards or they can combine them into one as demonstrated here.

For either setup, have students include a separate box for the appropriate ending in each cell as shown. In the combined model, these displayed endings should be color coded. Students will then create scenes and write original sentences for their selected regular -AR and -ER/-IR verbs. This activity can be advanced or simplified with vocabulary and other grammar. You may have students complete the activity once or various times to practice different regular -AR and -ER/-IR verbs. The model storyboard only includes cells for the yo, tú, and él forms, but students should also complete cells for the nosotros, vosotros, and ellos forms.

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-CAR, -GAR, -ZAR Verbs

Activity Includes: basic to intermediate vocabulary

The -CAR, -GAR, -ZAR category of preterite is really a subset of the regular -AR category. These verbs that end in -car, -gar, or -zar such as sacar, llegar, and almorzar, are conjugated with the regular -AR endings. The only exception here is that the yo form has a spelling change. The changes are that the yo-qué, for -gar verbs it is -gué, and for -zar verbs it is -cé. Since the other forms of these verbs are regular, this storyboard activity only focuses on practicing the irregular yo form. The model only includes one example of each, but have students create at least two examples per column. Each cell should include an original sentence using the yo form of the chosen verb and a scene illustrating the student’s sentence. Have students add title blocks for the infinitive verbs, and a note for the occurring change somewhere in the cells (ex. -car → -qué).

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Spanish Preterite - Ser & Ir Verbs

Activity Includes: intermediate vocabulary, words that signal the past (ayer, hace + time, anoche, el año pasado)

The verbs ser and ir in the preterite have identical verb forms. It is only from context that a reader or listener would know if the meaning was related to “going” or to “being.” Sometimes students don’t fully grasp this right away and creating original sentences helps the concept sink in. As demonstrated in the model storyboard, have students use the traditional storyboard to create a cell for each conjugation of ser and ir.

In the cells, students will write a sentence for each meaning, color coding them for clarity on ir versus ser. The model only includes examples for yo, tú, nosotros, and vosotros, but students should add two more cells for the él and ellos forms. In the cells students should also include images that match their sentences. This activity can be simplified with the use of simple sentences or advanced with other grammar and/or new vocabulary.

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Spanish Preterite - New Stem Verbs

Activity Includes: intermediate vocabulary and grammar

This storyboard activity is meant to highlight for students that a significant number of verbs in Spanish follow an entirely different pattern of verb conjugation in the preterite tense. These verbs use a new stem that must be memorized and a different, though similar, set of endings to other preterite verb categories. Although not a complete list, below are some of the most common new stem verbs, their new stems, and the endings that should be used. Note that the verb stems that end in “j” use a different ellos ending, and that the él form of hacer is also irregular.

In order to practice this preterite category, have students use the T-Chart layout, labeling the first column “Old Stem” and the second column “New Stem.” In the first column of cells, students will show how each verb does not use the standard stem. In the second column, students will show the change to the new stem for these verbs. For reinforcement students may also include the chart of possible endings for each verb. Next, have students use the new preterite verb in an appropriate sentence. The cell must also illustrate the meaning of the student’s sentence. The difficulty of this activity can be adjusted by specifying details for the student’s writing. The number of rows each student must complete may also be adjusted. Time allotment for this activity will vary based off specified sentence complexity and the number of verb examples requested.

hic- (*él/ella/Ud. hizo)
Sing. Plural
-e -imos
-iste -isteis
-o -ieron
* -eron

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Spanish Preterite - Boot Verbs

Activity Includes: intermediate vocabulary, reflexive verb, words that signal the past (ayer, hace + time, anoche, el año pasado)

Boot verbs in the preterite tense are almost straightforward, but the third person exception for some of the boot verbs is a specific enough rule to irritate even the most enthusiastic language students. For this category, students must learn that for boot verbs ending in -AR and -ER, no change occurs! They are either regular in the preterite like pensar or they fall into a different category altogether like querer (a new stem). However, for boot verbs ending in -IR, the rules are entirely different. These boot verbs now only change in the 3rd person, and the vowels change differently than they did in present tense. An -IR boot verb with the vowel “o” will change to “u” and an -IR boot verb with the vowel “e” will change to an “i,” but again, only in the 3rd person! Below are some examples to illustrate.

-AR Boot Verb
(no change)
-ER Boot Verb
(no change)
-IR Boot Verb
(O → U)
-IR Boot Verb
(E → I)

  • pensé
  • pensaste
  • pensó
  • pensamos
  • pensasteis
  • pensaron

  • entendí
  • entendiste
  • entendió
  • entendimos
  • entendisteis
  • entendieron

  • dormí
  • dormiste
  • durmió
  • dormimos
  • dormisteis
  • durmieron

  • pe
  • pediste
  • pidió
  • pedimos
  • pedisteis
  • pidieron

In order to practice this somewhat complex category, you may want students to create separate storyboards for each of the different types of boot verbs. Or, in order to illustrate and internalize the differences in one place, you may want students to create one larger storyboard (like the one modeled) that includes a column for the boot verbs that don’t change and one for those that do. In either design, have students highlight the vowels that should or should not change in each cell. Especially in the 3rd person cells for -IR boot verbs, have students make this cell stand out to the eye. For each cell students will include original sentences using the targeted verb form in the preterite as well as create a matching scene. The model storyboard only includes rows for yo, tú, and él, but students should also complete rows for the nosotros, vosotros, and ellos forms.

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Spanish Preterite - Dar & Ver

Activity Includes: intermediate vocabulary, indirect object pronoun

The verbs dar and ver have the same Spanish preterite endings and thus share a preterite verb category. They both use the regular -ER/-IR endings but without the accents. For this storyboard have students conjugate both verbs in each cell. They can color code each verb to differentiate them. Next students will write an original sentence using one of the two verbs. The scene should illustrate their sentence, and the student should signal which of the two conjugated verbs was used. The model storyboard only includes cells for the yo, tú, and él forms, but students should also complete cells for the nosotros, vosotros, and ellos forms.

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Spanish Preterite - Verbs with “y” and “í”

Activity Includes: intermediate to advanced vocabulary, past participle

This last category of the preterite includes verbs that end in -aer, -eer, oír, or -oer. These verbs in the 3rd person have a “y” in the ending instead of an “i,” and in all the other endings, the “i” has an accent. Although not a complete list, below are some of the most common verbs that have this “y” and “í.”

For their storyboard have students use the grid template and create four columns and six rows. Each column is for one of the below verbs, or for one of your choosing. The six rows are for each conjugation form. In the model storyboard, only one form has been demonstrated, but students should include all. As modeled, students will write an original sentence for their scene that includes the targeted verb and form. In addition they will add a text box into the scene to repeat the verb form targeted in each cell. The number of columns requested can be adjusted according to student need.

caí leí creí
caíste leíste creíste oíste
cayó leyó creyó oyó
caímos leímos creímos oímos
caísteis leísteis creísteis oísteis
cayeron leyeron creyeron oyeron

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Spanish Preterite - Narrative Story

Activity Includes: basic to intermediate vocabulary

Now that students have learned each of the preterite categories and their exceptions, they are ready to put them all together into a unified story. Preterite takes a lot of practice for mastery, so the more verbs that students include in their stories, the better. As demonstrated in the model storyboard, the first cell is for students to create a color key for the preterite categories. The ensuing cells are for the student’s narrative. Each cell should include at least one preterite verb, if not more, and should be color coded according to the color key in the initial cell. As a starting point, have students include at least one verb from each category and at least 10 preterite verbs total. These minimums can of course be adjusted to fit different needs. Students should have at least six cells for their narrative.

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•   (English) Spanish Preterite   •   (Español) Pretérito Español   •   (Français) Espagnol Pretérité   •   (Deutsch) Spanisch Preterite   •   (Italiana) Spagnolo Passato   •   (Nederlands) Spaanse Praeteritum   •   (Português) Espanhol Preterite   •   (עברית) ספרדית Preterite   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الأسبانية Preterite   •   (हिन्दी) स्पेनिश प्रीरेसाइट   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Испанский Претерит   •   (Dansk) Spanish Præteritum   •   (Svenska) Spanska Preteritum   •   (Suomi) Espanjan Preteriti   •   (Norsk) Spansk Preteritum   •   (Türkçe) İspanyolca Preterit   •   (Polski) Hiszpański Preteryt   •   (Româna) Preteria Spaniolă   •   (Ceština) Španělské Preterite   •   (Slovenský) Španielska Preterit   •   (Magyar) Spanyol Praeteritum   •   (Hrvatski) Španjolski Preterite   •   (български) Испански Претрийт   •   (Lietuvos) Ispanijos Preterite   •   (Slovenščina) Španski Preterite   •   (Latvijas) Spāņu Preterite   •   (eesti) Hispaania Minevik