SER versus ESTAR

The best trick to teaching SER and ESTAR is to NOT teach them the same way in terms of meaning.  This is actually so brilliant that I can’t believe I never thought of it before this year!  The reason I thought I’d share this little trick is because I saw this SER image and this ESTAR image, both filled with rules to memorize for when to use the two, floating around on Pinterest.  Knowing the difference is so much easier than memorizing all these rules!


This is the trick:

SER – I keep the meaning of SER the same as I did before (I am, you are, he is, we are, they are).

ESTAR – I now teach this as meaning “am/is/are feeling” or “am/is/are located.

It takes a little bit of coaching to get students to think/see/read “is feeling” angry instead of “is” angry, but after about two days of reinforcing the meaning my students naturally choose the correct verb!

For example, I was working with these with emotions during our story this week (happy, sad, bored, mad) so we were using “está” a lot.  I asked the question, “Clase, ¿el estudiante es o está aburrido?” and instinctually they picked “está!”  I won’t see it was an immediate response (some students take a little bit to process the actual question), but collectively they understood.

I was feeling pretty good about students understanding the difference, so I wanted to plant a seed.  When I’d studied abroad in Spain my host family said “¡Qué guapa estás!” I remember feeling kind of hurt, thinking they were toying with me.  I wanted to plant the idea that sometimes ESTAR is used for what we consider permanent features in English (being nice, good-looking, etc.).  So I asked, “Class what does it mean if I say Juanita está bonita?” And I found that students were able to explain that Juanita was feeling pretty, and I affirmed what they said by expanding that today she is feeling pretty but usually she doesn’t, and they got it!


Last year, this would have taken me WEEKS to explain.  Students would have taken notes, I would put up a poster with the rules, have them memorize “for how you feel and where you are, always use the verb ESTAR,” and I’d be lucky if my students remembered the difference.  By tweaking with the meaning when I initially teach the word ESTAR, I’ve eliminated so many problems that I used to have!  What once was a hard-fought battle is so effortless that my students don’t even realize what they’ve conquered.

I highly encourage you to try this out in your classroom!

3 thoughts on “SER versus ESTAR

  1. Wow! Amazing. I had never thought of it that way before but this makes perfect sense! I am LOVING your blog so far and thank you sooooooo much for sharing secrets! Kim

  2. Qué buena idea. Muchas gracias por compartir. Voy a empezar a usar este truco, pero también les enseñaré “look” con el verbo estar. “You look pretty/ugly/chubby/old.”

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