Filling in the gaps or choosing appropriate Tense forms is definitely much easier than using these Tenses in speech. Even high-level learners sometimes face obstacles when it comes to speaking and using Tense forms properly. To make things easier we have prepared a list of activities that will help your students memorize Past Simple, Past Continuous and Past Perfect better and to have more practice with them.
The best and the easiest way to get your students to speak is by providing picture prompts and corresponding questions.
What do you think happened in this place?
When did it happen?
What was the house owner doing at that time?
Had the owner left the house when the criminal broke into?
Ask me a question
Apart from being able to tell a story using appropriate Tense forms, an English learner must also know how to ask questions with these Tenses.
Ask me questions using Past Tenses to find out some details about this photo.
If the student has some difficulties, you can provide prompts of the questions.
Who/take a photo?
Here you can give your students different topics to choose and to talk about. Make sure you also ask corresponding questions to get them to use Past Tenses.
Talk about the last time
— you were invited to a wedding party.
When was it?
Whose wedding was it?
Had they invited
What was the bride wearing at the party?
What dances did the bride have? Had she prepared for it beforehand?
Who did you meet there? How long hadn’t you met them?
When and how did you get home?
— you went on holiday.
When did you go?
How long had not you had a holiday before that?
With whom and how did you go there?
What were you doing in the evenings when you were alone?
This activity is of great fun, especially for detective story fans. Make up an introduction to a crime story (e.g. Last night at 9 pm Mr Thomson was murdered in his bedroom. When his wife came in, the murderer had already left…) and choose a student to become a detective and to investigate the case. Choose two or three students to be suspects, they should go outside the room and agree on the details of everything they did yesterday between 8 pm and 10 pm. The detective then asks questions to the witnesses and suspects using appropriate Past Tenses.
— What were you doing at 11 p.m. yesterday?
— Who did you call when you found the dead body?
— Had anyone else entered the room before you went there?
— Where were you when you heard Mr Thomson’s wife screaming? What were you doing?
If you have a big group let all the students (except two or three who are suspects) be investigators, divide the class and ask each group to question suspects one by one. Students should make notes and then report back if they have noticed any differences in suspects’ stories.
Watch and Comment
Here you can choose a short episode from movies your students like. Ask them to watch the episode and comment on it. If necessary, provide some questions. They can also retell the plot of the episode using Past Tenses.
— What do you think had happened to Kara (Supergirl) before she saved James’s life?
— How did she save his life?
— What were school children doing when Supergirl came?
Funny Newspaper Headlines
Prepare the list of headlines. Ask students to work in pairs and prepare a few sentences about these headlines. They should include information about what was happening and what had happened before that. Then students tell the stories to the next pair and see if they can expand on the headline.
Examples of the headlines:
“Hamster case” solved.
Cows lose their jobs as milk prices drop.
Thursday is cancelled.
Voters to vote on whether to vote.
Divide students in groups. They should take turns and make sentences using past tenses. The first letter of the verbs must follow the sequence of the alphabet. If a student can’t think of one, they are out of the game.
A — Peter arrived in London at 6 pm last Sunday.
B — He immediately bought a ticket to Oxford.
The last but not the least is using picture sequences to make up a story in Past Tenses. You can find lots of options on Pinterest or just make your own one.
This was the list of the activities that I personally use in my classes. You are free to elaborate and adapt them to your lessons.
Let us know in the comments below who you practise Past Tenses in speech?