“There is” or “There are” is one of the highest frequency word(s) in any language. In Spanish, the word “hay” is nearly unavoidable as we share stories with our students. Because it is difficult for students to form a mental picture for the word, however, the lack of visualization presents a challenge for getting the word to ‘stick’ in students brains; for them to acquire it. 

"There is" or "There are" is one of the highest frequency word(s) in any language. Use these lesson ideas to help this word 'stick' in your students brains!

Establish meaning for new words

As with any new word or phrase, I begin by establishing meaning for the structure– I tell them what it means by linking meaning to L1. Usually, this happens in writing (I write hay – there is/there are on the board); for pre-literate kids, I suggest telling them what it means verbally and then reminding them several times. I also establish a gesture for it. It is important to give students the English meaning (if they share a common first language) in addition to the gesture so that they do not misinterpret the gesture. My gesture for “hay” is to stand with my hands in front of me, open-palmed and beside each other, and then to dramatically pull them out to the sides, as if presenting something, like, “Here you go! Here it is!”

Contextualize new words

After providing a translation and establishing a gesture, I like to give students a few sample sentences with translations so that they can see it in context. Use cognates and structures that students have already learned, and write out both the original sentence and the translation if kids can read; otherwise, just say them:

  • Hay un problema – there is a problem.
  • Hay dos dinosaurios – there are two dinosaurs
  • ¿Hay un astronauta en el clóset? – Is there an astronaut in the closet?

Use the new word in conversation

Then, begin asking questions that include the new word; in this case, hay. Since this structure will most likely be taught very early in a student’s language career, the questions that you can ask are extremely limited. I love this idea for working “there is/there are” into conversation, shared by Carol Gaab, who is a master Comprehension Based teacher, trainer, author, publisher, and one of my personal heroines:

As you begin the activity, you would also need to establish meaning for “sombrero” (hat) and “debajo de” (underneath) to students.

Use the word in games!

After reading Carol’s suggestion a few days ago, I happened to stumble across this activity suggestion from Spanish Playground while browsing Pinterest. To adapt it to use with this structure and “upgrade” the game a bit for older students, consider playing like this:

  1. Lay out a bunch of different candies on a tray. Candies work well because you can talk about them without translating since their names are proper nouns–this limits the vocabulary that students have to focus on. Try to get some common candies (like Skittles®, as Carol suggests, or Snickers®), but also find some more obscure ones. Lay out 1-5 pieces of each kind of candy.
  2. Give students 30 seconds to observe the candies that are laid out on the first tray and try to memorize what candy is on the tray and how many of each kind.
  3. Bring out as many objects as you had kinds of candy. Secretly place one kind of candy from the tray beneath each object: all three Milky Ways® beneath the hat; both Heath Bars® beneath the mug, and all five M&Ms® beneath the bowl.
  4. Divide the class into teams, and give each team a whiteboard.
  5. One by one, play the game as Carol suggests. Ask the class, “¿Qué hay debajo del sombrero?” (What is there below the hat?). Have students confer with their teammates and record their guess on the whiteboard. They should write down the number and kind of the candy that they think is beneath that hat, drawing on their memory of what was on the tray.
  6. Ask the question again, and then have the teams reveal their answers.
  7. Circle the answer from each team (click here if you are unfamiliar with circling).
  8. Reveal what is actually underneath the hat. Distribute points to each team based on the accuracy of their guess: one point if the number was correct; two points if the candy was correct; three points if both the number and the candy was correct. Adding this memory/logical angle to the activity serves to engage even your most intellectual students!
  9. Repeat with the next object and hidden candy. As the game continues, students will have to use the process of elimination and their memory to make accurate guesses. Continue until all candies have been revealed, then divide them amongst the class (giving the winning team their choice of candy first).

Ready to go games with “there is/there are”

I’ve also published a few conversational games that use “hay” or “c’est” (in French) as a Core Vocabulary word– they are a perfect way to engage your students with some friendly competition and movement at the beginning of the year while supporting comprehension!!

What are some other questions and activities that you use to teach the structure “Hay”?

25 replies on “There is/There are

  1. Another great ‘novel’ idea from Martina. 🙂
    I also use other items that are ‘countable’: Disassemble a Barbie doll or two. Place a leg, two head, a hand, etc. under that hat. Always fun to cut a finger or two off one of the hands. (i.e.: body parts– keys, bb glove, baseball, shoe, ID, batting glove, socks– Skittles, Jelly Bellies, Jolly Ranchers, M&Ms etc. how many & what color?– school supplies– coins/bills– etc. If I don’t have the items, I also place illustrations of items under the ‘hat’ OR in a (What’s in the) box.

  2. It’s not anything particularly earth-shattering, but I was glad that you have the students write the word and find it in context. With the silent “H” I find that they know what it SOUNDS like, but don’t recognize it in print.
    I find the opposite with “Hacer.” They recognize the verb in print, but do not understand it when I ask questions orally. Maybe you have a motion for that??? 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Indonesian Teacher Reflections and commented:
    Indonesian has the same high frequency word for ‘there is’ & ‘there are’ and is also a tricky language concept to teach. I love this teaching suggestion and would rename it, “Ada apa dibawah topi?” Would be great for all ages and the question in itself lends itself to a variety of topics.

  4. Indonesian also has a word frequency ‘there is’ & ‘there are’ word (ada) so the activity outlined in this post are excellent. As my school has a compulsory hat wearing policy in summer terms, revision of the word for hat would also be valuable! I have reblogged this for Indonesian Language Teachers and look forward to hearing their feedback.

  5. Sorry for the grammar errors in the above comment. I blame the winter flu that is doing the rounds here in Australia! The first sentence should read, Indonesian has the same high frequency word for ‘there is’ and ‘there are’ (ada) so the activity outlined in this post is excellent.

    1. Am I wrong to simply have a poster with hay – there is/there are and había – there was/there were? I stop and point to the poster quite frequently in the beginning of the year and leave it up all year (just like my question words), and the students seem to pick up on it on their own simply because of how often I use it.

  6. We use a guessing game and the phrase “¿Cuántos hay?” I put pencils / small children’s books / paper clips, etc into a basket — one category at a time. I walk the room, spinning the basket so they can’t get an accurate count. As they’re writing their guesses I ask repeatedly, “¿Cuántos lápices (or whatever the object is) hay?” Then we count them together, stopping periodically to ask, “¿Cuántos todavía están en el juego?” This game is good for lots of repeats.

    1. I love that it also gets in reps of classroom materials! I can justify teaching low-frequency vocab as long as it is paired with a high-frequency structure like ‘hay’ 🙂

  7. I ran the activity today with two modifications: 1. instead of candy (I am a healthy food maniac), I used my daughter’s big colorful lego blocks. “Lego” is a cognate. 2. Instead of “What is under the hat?” I asked “How many legos are under the hat?”. I kept it simple by using just a hat (I did not want to introduce too many new words) and we did a few rounds of them guessing how many legos there were under the hat. It went really really well, we focused on “there is/are” and also numbers. Added bonus they now also comprehend “How many” because I asked the question so many times. Later on when I asked “How many boys are in the class?”, they all got it! Thanks again for suggesting this activity.

  8. I teach the little ones a song to the tune of “Farmer in the Dell”.
    “Hay” means “there is”,
    “Hay” means “there is”,
    Hi Ho the Dairy O,
    “Hay” means “there is”.

    Hay un gato
    Hay un gato
    Hi Ho the Dairy O
    There is a cat

    Repeat with various animals or objects, body parts, or whatever. This works really well with those little preliterate ones.

  9. So, for “hay”, I use the salute sign. It reminds people of the aye, aye captain concept which has the “hay” sound. I also suggest that when “there is” a captain or “there is” a sergeant, one needs to salute. Then I say something corny like “so…. let’s salute some things: Clase, ?hay una puerta or tres puertas in la clase?; ?hay 3 or 23 ventanas en la clase? As always the word and the meaning are on the board.
    Too weird???

    1. I like it! It is such a difficult word for students to pronounce, so I think that it is a great idea to establish a gesture that reminds them of the pronunciation–given that you are very clear in establishing the meaning of the word when giving the gesture!

  10. If you have access to a TON of LEGOs,(DUPLOs) this is possible: Give each student a shoebox full of LEGOs. Have them practice ‘there is/are’ along with addition and subtraction. I do not translate whatsoever and my students are not supposed to speak, just replicate my gestures. Teacher picks up one and says: “block” “one block”. “book, one book’ to discriminate between block and book. Give the TPR command to lift one block. Visually check: yes, all have just one. Lift 2 blocks. Visually check. Once they get up to five, then demonstrate one plus one equals two blocks. I deliberately pick two different colored blocks. I ask if there is/are two blocks or one block. I then keep adding and subtracting, using and, equals, or, and there are. After a few tries, they have caught on to the meanings and those fully little connector words like ‘and’. But asking if there is/are how many repeatedly helps. In general, my students completely remember and have way too much fun with the Legos, providing you give them a few minutes of building time at first to get it out of their systems!

  11. Did you ever get around to making a video of all of your gestures? 🙂 Or do you have a good resource that you would like to share? Thanks again and again for your lesson plans and resources!!!

  12. I teach them that “hay” is a magic word..so when I ask cuantos hay..they need to answer “hay 5” I praise the ones who remember and now they all want to remember a
    magic word 🙂

  13. I’ve been teaching a mini-unit to my Spanish 2 students as a review. We are going over the Super Siete verbs (from this blog: http://teachingcomprehensibly.com/super-seven/) I’ve been using a lot of ideas from other teachers, but I also found the song “No hay nadie más” by Sebastián Yatra. We used it in addition to Carol’s game.

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