“Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)“: Past Continuous lesson plan

Many textbooks use strangely sad or even frightening text fragments to introduce the Past Continuous tense: for example, Headway has bank robbery stories from newspapers, and English File writes about a girl who loses her fortune.

I believe that grammar can and should be introduced through positive examples. One of them is Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)”.

Lesson plan:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Lead in
  3. Grammar presentation
  4. Grammar practice
  5. Freer practice

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1. Warm-up

Have you ever travelled by boat? Imagine we are going on a boat trip. Let’s play the Snowball game.

I’m going on a boat trip, I’m taking a tent.
I’m going on a boat trip, I’m taking a tent and two sandwiches.
I’m going on a boat trip, I’m taking a tent, two sandwiches and an umbrella…

2. Lead in

Today we are going to read an amazing and humorous book by Jerome K. Jerome “Three men in a boat (to say nothing of the dog)”.

This book is very popular in the UK and has a lot of video versions in different languages. We are going to watch a video about the book but first, read the word and say what it can mean:

a state in which a person continuously worries about their health without having any reason to do so

Definition from Cambridge dictionary

Watch the video (00:32–1:13) about the book and choose the correct options:

1. Jerome K. Jerome wrote «The three men in a boat (to say nothing of the dog)» in ____.
a) 1888
b) 1898
c) 1889

2. Jerome and his friends made a journey along _____ river.
a) The Nile
b) the Thames
c) the Mississippi

3. The only illness the friends had was a severe case of a benign _______.
а) headache
b) stomachache
c) hypochondria

4. The journey was _____ miles from Kingston to Oxford.
а) 16
b) 96
c) 19

Answer the questions:

 What kind of travelling do you prefer?
 Have you ever read the book of Jerome K. Jerome “Three men in a boat (to say nothing of the dog)“ ?
 What do you think of it?

See also:

3. Grammar presentation

Look at the photo. What are the men doing? What do you think they are talking about?

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Film frame “Three men in a boat (to say nothing of the dog)“, “Lenfilm“, 1979

Read the extract from the first chapter of “Three men in a boat (to say nothing of the dog)” by Jerome K. Jerome and answer the questions.

There were four of us — George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were — bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course. We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him sometimes, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that he had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what he was doing. With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.

We sat there for half-an-hour, describing to each other our illnesses. I explained to George and William Harris how I felt when I got up in the morning, and William Harris told us how he felt when he went to bed. Mrs. Poppets knocked at the door exactly at the moment when George was telling and showing us how terribly he felt at night.  She wanted to know if we were ready for supper. We smiled sadly at one another, and said we supposed we had better try to swallow a bit

Glossary for the text you might need: 

  • seedy — slightly unwell
  • giddiness — a state when a person feels dizzy
  • liver — a large organ in the body that cleans the blood
• Where were the people?
• How did they feel?
• What problem did the author have? Why?
• When did Mrs. Poppets knock at the door?
• Why did she knock?
• Did the author and his friends really feel badly? What do you think?

Look at the italic verbs in the highlighted sentence of the text and answer the questions:

1. Are the italic verbs describing actions that happened …?
a) after Mrs. Poppets knocked at the door
b) at the same time as she knocked at the door

2. Are they describing actions that …
a) have finished before the knock
b) are not finished but are interrupted by the knock

This is Past Continuous Tense.

Complete the rule

A. Fill in gaps with the words from the box:

Moment, interrupting, beginning moment, time

We use Past Continuous Tense to describe an action in progress at a specific [moment] in the past. This moment can be shown by…

  1. the [time] expression (We were having dinner at 7 o’clock yesterday),
  2. another [interrupting] action (Mrs. Poppets knocked at the door exactly at the moment when George was telling and showing us how terribly he felt at night),
  3. the [beginning moment] of a story (We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were).

We use Past Continuous Tense to describe a not-finished action.

B. Write the correct forms:

We form Past Continuous Tense:

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)": Past Continuous lesson plan

4. Grammar practice

Write the verbs in Past Continuous Tense.

  1. The friends __________ (have dinner) when Jerome suggested a boat trip.
  2. While George, Harris and Jerome __________ (discuss)  their trip, Mrs Poppets brought a newspaper.
  3. They __________ (pack) their baggage when it started to rain.
  4. George __________ (sleep) in the bank, as usual, when they woke him up and told him to go home.
  5. When George and Jerome __________ (sit) and __________ (look)  at the beautiful Moon, they heard a strange sound.
  6. At 3 p.m. on Saturday Harris and Jerome __________ (wait) for George to join them.
  7. While Uncle Podger __________ (lift) the picture, he dropped it.
  8. When he __________ (look) for his handkerchief, it was in his pocket.
  9. When Uncle Podger __________ (try) to hammer a nail into the wall, he hit his thumb.

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5. Freer practice

What about you? Read and answer the questions.

• What were you doing yesterday at 5 p.m?
• What were you doing when your mum came yesterday?
• What was your pet doing yesterday at 7 p.m.?
• What were you doing just after dinner?
• What were your friends doing when you came to school yesterday?
• What were you doing when your teacher started the first lesson yesterday?

This and other fun stories from Jerome K. Jerome will help students understand the rule of Past Continuous. Have fun lessons!

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