Preterite vs. Imperfect Activities

November 23, 2021 World Language Cafe by Sherry Sebesta

We all know that getting our Spanish students to understand preterite vs. imperfect is extremely tricky.  In previous posts, I shared how to teach preterite conjugations and my simple 5 question system for how to choose preterite or imperfect.  This post will share my favorite preterite vs. imperfect activities for practicing and solidifying these two tenses.

1. Create a slide show, do a presentation, write a composition, or make a video about life in the past.

Students describe what their life was like when they were younger with photos of themselves (or during a certain time period – ex. in the 1980’s).  If students are doing presentations, videos, or slide shows, ask them to use artifacts (objects to represent what they liked in the past) to make the presentation more interesting.

Preterite vs. Imperfect Activities
Preterite vs. Imperfect Activities

2. Post a new preterite meme or imperfect meme.

Each day post the meme on your door or put it up on the screen when students come into class.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Abuela knitting her spaghetti (hice)Preterite Meme

Zombie therapy (dije)Preterite Meme

Grumpy Cat (me divertí, fue)Preterite Meme

3. Spend 10-20 minutes every Monday talking about your weekend.

Great natural practice using the past tense.  Learn more about how to set this up in Spanish Speaking Activities for Mondays.

Spanish Speaking Activities
Spanish Speaking Activities

4. Play “What did you do yesterday?”

Split the students into pairs or groups of 3.  Person A asks, “¿Qué hiciste ayer?” and Person B says what they did.  Then Person A has to act out what Person B said they did.

Person A:  “¿Qué hiciste ayer?”
Person B:  “Me cepillé los dientes.”

A: (pretends to brush teeth)
B:  “¿Qué hiciste ayer?”

A: (still brushing his teeth), has to think of something he did and respond. “Caminé mi perro.”
B: (while walking the dog) asks, “¿Qué hiciste ayer?”

This continues for as long as possible.  When one student can’t think of another answer, the other student wins.  After they are used to the format, add some variations.

1. Encourage your students to say silly sentences.  Ex.  I washed my belly button, ate my homework, sang my favorite song in Spanish, etc.

2. Use different time frames:  anoche, esta mañana, a las tres, la semana pasada, etc.  (See next page for ideas).  This is a great time to review “hace”.  Hace tres horas, hace dos días

3. Create longer sentences. Ex. I brushed my teeth because I ate lots of garlic.   . . . while I drove my car to school.   . . . and painted my toenails green.

5. Do a preterite speaking activity similar to Top Chef.

Students work in partners to ask if certain cooking activities have been completed or not.   ¿Ya cortaste las cebollas?  No, todavía no OR Sí, ya las corté.  (If not completed the other partner says, ¡Hazlo ahora!)  To incorporate the imperfect, have students answer, “No, todavía no.  Cortaba las cebollas cuando . . . me interrupiste, sonó el teléfono, me corté con el cuchillo, etc.”

Preterite Speaking Activity
Preterite Speaking Activity
Preterite Activity
Preterite Activity

6. Write postcards describing a vacation using the preterite and imperfect tenses.

Students choose a Spanish-speaking country that they’d like to visit and write a postcard describing a few of the cultural things to do in that country of city, what they did, what the weather was like, etc.  Have them write a draft that you correct before they put their final copy on the postcard.  They can find photos online to make the postcard or illustrate it themselves.  They write 2 questions based on the info. from their postcard and then students walk around the room reading the postcards to find the answers.

7. Watch a preterite vs. imperfect story.

Students write all the preterite or imperfect verbs. You may want to have students watch the video for homework.  Pause the video to discuss why the verb is preterite or imperfect.  I like to use La leyenda del espantapájaros for this activity.

8. Practice with trifold flashcards.

These unique flashcards are great for learning how to use the preterite in the context of sentences.


Check out the preterite trifold flashcards:  preterite AR verbs, preterite ER verbs, preterite IR verbs, CAR, GAR, ZAR verbs.

9. Write a class story on the board together.

Start with a sentence like:  Era una noche oscura y espantosa . . .  Put students in small groups to write the next sentence together.  Then each group reads their sentence and the class decides which one to choose.  OR have the whole class write the story together.  Help them expand their simple sentences to create more complex sentences.  Ask clarifying questions to get students to add more details.

Ex.  Before:  A monster jumped out.  After:  A green, hairy monster with six eyes jumped out of the closet where Lydia used to keep all her old, broken toys.

Examples of clarifying questions:  What did the monster look like?  How many eyes did he have?  What was the closet like?  What was in the closet?

10. Listen to a song.

Students identify all the preterite vs. imperfect verbs and then discuss the meaning of the song and why the specific verb tenses were used.
Eres mi tesoro
La historia de Juan

11. Practice preterite vs. imperfect activities on the Internet.

There are tons of sites with great preterite vs. imperfect activities.  Here are a few helpful ones:
Barbara Kucson Nelson

12. Use a photo prompt.

Select a funny photo as a writing or speaking prompt.  In small groups, students create a back story about what happened to cause this event?

Pick an illustration with lots going on.  Students have 5 minutes to write as much as they can about the photo.

13. Other Helpful Resources:

Grab your Simple 5 Question System for Choosing Preterite vs. Imperfect in the World Language Cafe Free Resource Library.   Access the library to snag this and 25+ other forever-free resources!

How to Choose Preterite vs. Imperfect


Preterite vs. Imperfect Activities (worksheets, videos, game cards to go with the activities listed in this post)
Full Unit for the Preterite – Everything you need to teach the preterite from start to finish!
Preterite vs. Imperfect Powerpoint – Explains the formation of both tenses and includes practice stories.
Mega Bundle – Everything you need to teach both tenses from start to finish!  Games, videos, songs, quizzes, tests, homework, Internet practice, and so much more.

Preterite & Imperfect in Spanish class

Hope these preterite vs. imperfect activities help to spice up your Spanish classes!  Is there an activity that you do in class that your students love for these tricky tenses?  Let us know in the comments.

Sherry Sebesta
Sherry Sebesta
World Language Cafe by Sherry Sebesta

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