Reflexive verbs are so much fun to teach and learn! There are many phases to learning the application of reflexive verbs in Spanish, and even before their application, in understanding the multi-faceted concept in general. While English speakers can simply say “I’m brushing my teeth”, in Spanish the speaker must use an extra word to demonstrate that the action occurs to the subject himself. This extra word is called the reflexive pronoun. Below is a chart of the reflexive pronouns.
Spanish Reflexive Verbs Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers
The first thing students must understand in learning about reflexive verbs is the difference in meaning between a reflexive verb and other verbs. A reflexive verb is one in which the subject performs the action and also receives the action, as compared to something or somebody else receiving the action. To illustrate this, reflexive verbs use the reflexive pronouns me, te, se, nos, os, or se. For example “Me lavo la cara" means “I wash my face” — I do the action, and I also receive the action. “Lavo los platos”, however, means “I wash the plates” — here, I do the action, but the plates receive the action. The verb in this second sentence is not reflexive.
For students to practice this, have students brainstorm examples that could either be reflexive or not, like the above example. Then have them create a T-Chart storyboard to illustrate the difference in concept between a reflexive verb and one that’s not. Under each cell, have students write a sentence that describes the illustration, again emphasizing reflexive and not. If students have not yet learned how to conjugate a reflexive verb, have them skip the description box step or have them write the sentence in English for concept understanding.
In learning reflexive verbs, students are learning both new vocabulary terms, as well as a new grammar structure. In order to practice their meaning, have students focus on reflexive verbs as vocabulary by having them complete the following storyboard exercise.
Have students select the spider map layout to create distinct scenes that demonstrate the association of a reflexive verb with appropriate vocabulary. In each cell, have students include a title block displaying a reflexive verb as a question. At this stage, don’t have students worry about conjugation, just vocabulary association. In the cell body, students will place a character to respond to the question with relevant vocabulary. Have students create a cell for each reflexive verb that they are required to learn. This storyboard exercise can be tailored for more or less complexity. For example, the cells could include multiple characters—one to verbalize objects used to perform the action, and another to state where the action is likely to occur.
Below is a sample list of common reflexive verbs to use:
The following “process” storyboard is helpful as students learn the step-by-step process of conjugating a reflexive verb. Though systematic, the multiple steps involved can trip up some students. Thus, best use of this grid is for an early lesson on reflexives, in extending learning to other tenses with reflexives, or in particular with students that struggle with multi-step processes. Often, students grow accustomed to reflexives in present tense, but can initially have trouble putting them into other tenses.
Have students label each conjugation step in the row headings and label the verb type or tense in each column heading. In the cells, have students place relevant imaginary to reinforce the verb’s meaning. In the body of the cell, students will also demonstrate the step for that row as labeled. According to each student’s level, the complexity of requirements can be adjusted, for example to include future, preterite, imperfect, present progressive, or reflexive boot verbs and reflexive irregulars like irse.
Practicing the conjugation of reflexive verbs is very important for first time learners. Have students complete the following storyboard exercise to practice this skill and to fit the forms into simple contexts. Students can be directed to use the present tense, preterite tense, or the imperfect tense depending on their level.
Students should select the grid layout, and treat the cells like a verb chart, placing their selected reflexive verb into each cell according to the different subject pronoun conjugations of yo, tú, él/ella/Ud., nosotros, vosotros, and ellos/ellas/Uds. In each cell, students will include the proper conjugation of their reflexive verb within the context of a sentence. The cell should also illustrate the chosen sentence. Below each cell in the description box, students will reinforce the conjugation by retyping just the conjugated reflexive verb.
In Spanish, there are many situations in which infinitives must be used. Recognizing these is often difficult for learners, and when compiled with a reflexive verb, students often find the topic even more challenging. This simple storyboard exercise is meant to help students practice these instances of infinitive use by having them create original examples of each in conjunction with a reflexive verb.
Below is a list of common terms with which infinitives must be used if a verb is placed after them:
To have to
To be going to
In order to
To have just
The above examples must be followed by infinitives (if they are followed by verbs), but with reflexive verbs, the student must attend to the reflexive pronoun in addition. Thus, the student must practice using the appropriate reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nos, os, se) even with infinitives.
Have students create a grid storyboard, labeling the first column according to the infinitive situation they will demonstrate to the right. In the second column, students should provide an original sentence that demonstrates the infinitive example with a reflexive. It might be helpful for students to also demonstrate the change that occurs with the reflexive pronoun in the first column as shown in the storyboard example below.
Oh, the fun of synthesis! This is a great opportunity for your students to show off their mastery of reflexives and their storytelling ability in Spanish. In the following storyboard activity, students will put all of their reflexive verb knowledge to use within the context of a narrative. Students can be asked to include specific items such as reflexives in present tense, past tense, irregular reflexives, reflexive boot verbs, reflexive infinitives, etc. Providing students with a minimum number of different reflexive verbs to use may also be a good idea, for example asking them to use a set list of reflexives. You might also specify using various conjugations, such as at least one yo, one nosotros, and one él/ella. These parameters will help students focus on the application of the various facets of the reflexive verb topic.
In the storyboard example, a bride is preparing for her wedding, and between the description box and the text bubbles in the cells, there are various examples of reflexive infinitives and present tense reflexives. The last cell in the model storyboard is to prompt a completion of the wedding narrative. Students, however, should complete their narratives and will likely need at least eight cells.
To conjugate a regular reflexive verb like lavarse into present tense, first replace the se with the correct reflexive pronoun and put it at the front. Then, you will be left with lavar, which is conjugated as it normally would be. For example, lavarse in the present tense yo form is me lavo.
To use an infinitive reflexive verb only change the se at the end to reflect the subject. For example, the infinitive to match the yo form done above would be lavarme.
Practicing and learning reflexive verbs takes time, patience, and a methodical approach. Each of the storyboard exercises included in this lesson targets a different aspect of the learning process, be it associating reflexive verbs with appropriate vocabulary, understanding the reflexive concept, using reflexive infinitives, conjugating reflexives, or synthesizing all of the above into a narrative.