There's no point fighting the past tense. You're going to have to sneak at least a COUPLE of words (read: functional chunks) in even in Spanish I.
HINT: "Fue" will cover a LOT of your past tense needs. Some kids can survive Spanish 2 with pretty much only that one verb in past tense, and some smarty pantses might grasp "fui" before they beg for Spanish 3 to be added to the early college schedule, either through Duolingo or just constant grammatical questioning.
But then they start throwing in the "tengo comer" interlanguage, and it's all your inner linguist can do not to rip her hair out and start babbling in the present perfect.
Now, the single most successful project I've found to start Spanish 2 with is the self-improvement project (I'll be presenting on it at ACTFL this year!). However, one of the main components of the actual self-improvement is the reflection--they have to keep track of what they HAVE (or have not) done each day.
So I made a gesture to go with he, has, ha (thumb jerked back over your shoulder) and some sliders to help students form regular present tense verbs:
Basically you can have them fill in any relevant (regular) roots you want. I know that things like caminar and correr come in handy for the exercise crowd!
Then of course there were the irregulars, so I went back and created some little door flaps that could be added on a separate page or perhaps separated to scaffold a little better:
- Gesture icon + AR slide on one page
- ER slide + irregular doors on next page
Find more information on how I have used interactive notebooks in Spanish I here and check out these other resources on sale--or free!--on TPT:
- Proficiency Tracking Page
- Proficiency & Performance
- Me Gusta, Te Gusta, Le Gusta
- Connector Words Chant
- Tengo, Tienes, Tiene