My new teaching position has introduced me to a lot of new challenges in finding harmony between CI-based methodology and a textbook-based pacing guide. Our French 2 textbook is especially heavy on irregular verbs, and although my students are working their hardest — engaging actively in CI practice during class and completing a wide variety of practices at home — we’re still struggling to the meet the goal of mastering all these verbs forms. As usual, the textbook considers a set of verbs like dormir, partir and sortir to be one “rule” because all the verbs have similar irregularities. The reality is that acquiring all the present- and past-tense forms of these three verbs solidly enough for confident production is far beyond the scope of one week’s learning, and that doesn’t even take into account the twenty or more additional lexical items to be covered in the week. It’s also far more than can be sensibly addressed totally through CI activities.
Enter Conjuguno. I developed this activity to give students some kind of purpose for using all these verb forms that’s hopefully enjoyable enough to at least trigger a few good neurochemicals and boost their retention.
The game works more or less like real Uno, except we’re playing with verb forms instead of colors and numbers. It’s a very easy game to make once you get your first set created, and I’ve found it engaging enough to hold students’ attention for a decent chunk of independent practice and yet fast-paced enough to provide quick review before assessments. Students can easily play the game during that tough phase between CI-based introduction of the forms and actual long-term acquisition. The forms are provided for them, so I know they’re getting accurate exposures to the verbs.
Creating a set of Conjuguno cards
To create a set, you need at least two different verbs. I typically put two or three irregular verbs in a set, or at lower levels, two or three verbs in regular patterns (e.g. -er, -ir, -re). Your set can focus on a single tense or multiple tenses, and you can also include infinitives that are played as “wild cards”. I simply create a table in Word and start typing in all the verb forms I want to practice, and then cut the cards out to made a deck. I make enough decks so that students can play in groups of 3-4, which seems to be the best group size.
To play the game, you’ll put students into groups and assign a dealer. The dealer will deal one card to each student and to the draw pile, continuing until all the cards have been dealt out. They’ll place one card from the draw pile in the center of the table to start.
Like real Uno, students play cards by matching to the card on top of the pile; their goal is to be the first person to play all their cards. Cards match when they have either the same subject pronoun (e.g. je commence, je finis) or are forms of the same verb in any tense (e.g. je finis, elle finit or elle finit, nous avons fini). Students who have infinitive cards can play them at any time like a “wild card”; the next person will have to match to that same verb. However, students must also use the form they play in a complete sentence, except in the case of infinitive “wild cards”. This keeps them focused on both form and meaning and encourages recycling of vocabulary.
If a student can’t match to the current card, the student will draw a card from the draw pile and play continues. Students can shuffle the pile of played cards as needed when the draw pile runs out.
Gameplay will move fairly quickly, and that’s really the point. I want students to see and use as many different forms as possible. And students generally do a good job of keeping each other on track, since the penalty for skimping on a rule (like using the form in a sentence) is having to draw an extra card. The process of finding matches also helps students see some of the similarities and differences that textbooks assume students will notice right off the bat.
Conjuguno isn’t a perfect solution for tackling huge chunks of irregular verbs, but I do think it’s a worthwhile activity. Best of all, it’s very easy to create new sets to mix old and new verb patterns when students start to get rusty.