Jason Linder, MA, is a doctoral student and intensely passionate Spanish tutor and blog writer. In his free time, he enjoys collaborating with other educators on SpeakingLatino, Telenovelas, traveling around Latin America, meditation, yoga, exercise, reading, and writing. Learn more about his free Spanish learning resources and tutoring.
Diminutives are super-fun! They’re one of the many reasons I love Spanish. They enable us to express myself in ways we cannot in English! Ready to speak like a native with students?! Let’s do it!
But wait a second!
Diminutives don’t come natural to native English-speaking students. In English we rarely add suffixes to words to emphasize size, affection, youth, or amount. We do, seldom, at y or let, in the following examples:
dog –> doggy
blanket –> blanky
book –> booklet
In Spanish, however, diminutives are much more common. The good news is that these patterns are not only easy, but often fun to teach students!
Once they start to understand them, it’s easy to fall in love with them when students realize that employing diminutives opens communication channels and novel forms of expression that simply did not exist before, in their native language English.
Let’s map out a lesson plan below. Keep in mind that every group of students is different, so it’s vital to adapt outline to your unique blend of pupils:
Diminutives Lesson Plan Ideas:
a) Ask students how they would describe something in English that is extremely tiny, possibly a baby ant. What adjectives would they use to capture the tininess? In these cases, most students would say something along the lines:
“a very very small tiny ant,” or inject a fancy adjective like a “microscopic ant”
b) Then you can ask students, in Spanish, what if you didn’t need to use fancy vernacular, or repeat the adjectives to communicate the same concept in Spanish? What if you could just add suffixes to words that can specify or clarify its specific context?
This is the magic of diminutives in Spanish! In Spanish we can say: “Una hormiga pequeñita.”
Here we can review a few common ones where the suffix is -ito/a as well:
muchacho/a –> muchachito/a
Problema –> problemita
Ensure that students notice that any nouns that refer to people here end in o if they’re masculine and a if they’re feminine. Non-human nouns like problema usually keep their same ending, save the word mano (hand), which becomes manita instead of manito in Spanish.
c) Now students can practice with a few:
d) Once students are able to add diminutives to regular non-complicated nouns, it will be time to teach them that diminutives also contain irregulars, like most patterns in Spanish. The good news is that they have rules the render them easy!
- When the last syllable starts with a c, like cerca (close by), the c becomes a qu in its diminutive form cerquita. Other examples are poco (poquito/a) and chico/a (chiquito/a), among others.
- When a noun ends in an n or r, student should learn to add the suffix cito/a instead of ito/a.
Joven –> Jovencito/a
Lugar –> Lugarcito
- This lesson plan is meant to be a mere introduction to diminutives, not a comprehensive, all-encompassing guide, so remind students there are other diminutive suffixes, like ete, illo/a, ico, and more, that hopefully they will learn later on!
2. Indirect Object Pronouns
a) One of the many areas students struggle with are indirect object pronouns. To preface this lesson, it can be helpful to explain the difference between subjects and objects. When you say those two words, most students will likely get confused, giving you blank stares, unless they recently reviewed this in their English classes.
So what the heck are subjects and objects anyway?! Student may ask.
You can then pique students’ interest by reminding them that they’re much easier than they sound! We use them all the time in English. Subjects are carrying out the actions of main verbs in a sentence, whereas objects are receiving them.
In the sentence “He tells us about the play,” he is the subject, completing the action, and us is the object, receiving the action.
Here is a handy table in English to familiarize students to the same concepts in Spanish, where the subjects are on your left and the objects are on the right:
Once students seem to understand where you’re going here, we can start this lesson plan by translating the above table into Spanish:
Once again, remind students that the subjects are on your left (carrying out the actions of verbs) and the objects are on the right (receiving the actions of verbs). So now that we’re referring to indirect objects, we know they refer to the specific person or people receiving a specific action.
The general rule is that, unlike English, in Spanish you place the indirect object to the left or in front of the subject. Here’s a basic, regular, non-complicated example.
Te digo translates to “I tell you”
Let’s practice this a little by translating the following into Spanish:
I give him: _____________________________
We remind you: _________________________
They listen to us: _________________________
But what if they contain direct object pronouns as well? Direct object pronouns are more straightforward, as they usually translate to “it” in English. Let’s review all four of them:
los, las, lo, las
We can see her that there are four types of direct object pronouns in Spanish because each refers to whether the given object is masculine or feminine, and whether it’s plural or singular.
When the sentence is relatively straightforward, you can insert the direct object pronoun between the indirect object pronoun and the conjugated verb. Here’s a common example:
“He says it to us” translates to Nos lo dice.
Let’s practice this a little by translating the following into Spanish:
“They tell it to me”: _______________________________
“I pass it to you”: _________________________________
b) If you’ve gotten this far and have still retained your students’ attention (congratulations!), your students are likely ready for the tricky part:
Anytime the indirect object pronouns he/she or you all/they is followed by a direct object pronoun, it must be artificially modified!
Le and les must become se. After all, doesn’t se lo digo sound better than le lo digo?!
For example, “They tell her it,” would be le lo dice, but once we apply the new rule, it is then switched to se lo dice! Let’s practice a little more by translating:
“They tell it to you all” _____________________________
“We tell her all the time”____________________________
“I should send it to them”____________________________
“You save those for her” _____________________________
Don’t forget to review these as a class together!
3. Having years and temperatures vs. Being them
As you know as a Spanish educator, there are some pretty interesting semantic shifts in Spanish for us native English-speakers, and it’s our job to be aware of them and effectively teach them to students! So what’s the best way to help students learn these crucial differences?
We can start our lesson plan by comparing these concepts to English.
In English we similar are our age. We say “I’m 29, He’s 54,” etc. while these statements make sense in English, if we directly translated them into Spanish, they wouldn’t make sense.
We can continue to that in Spanish, our age, colloquially reported in numbers, is something that we have, not something we are in Spanish.
The same is true for indicating what our internal temperature is. We say in English, “I’m hot, he’s freezing,” etc. while these statements make sense in English, if we directly translated them into Spanish, they wouldn’t make sense.
Just like age, our internal temperature is something we have as well, not something we are. Let’s encourage students to practice with a few examples below:
“We are cold”: ____________________________
“We all have the same age”: _____________________
“You are really hot”: ________________________
“Alex is 29 and John is only 5”: ______________________
This lesson plan is clearly more basic, possibly a reward to students, as the first two above usually take a while to soak in!
Good luck teaching students these new patterns in class!
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