Past Simple and Past Continuous: best tasks for practising

Best tasks for practising Past Simple and Past Continuous

Best tasks for practising Past Simple and Past Continuous


  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

We usually use Past Simple and Past Continuous to describe past events, and more rarely Past Perfect or Past Perfect-Continuous. It is also hard not to notice that pre-intermediate students often find it easy to use these tenses separately. Still, when it comes to combining Past Simple and Past Continuous in their heads, a real explosion occurs.

And that’s normal. After all, in our native language, we might not have such a variety of tenses and forms, and when learning English all the rules and exceptions must be kept in mind. However, at this moment, students start to think in English, and maybe even try not to translate from Ukrainian to English, but to really build sentences in the target language.

Today I am sharing tasks that helped my students overcome difficulties in understanding and using these tenses and created a great atmosphere in classes.

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Past Continuous Memory Game

For this game, you will need a picture with many people doing different things. It is desirable that the vocabulary is already known, then students will not have to be distracted by searching for the necessary words, and they will be able to concentrate on using grammar.

Distribute the pictures to the students and ask them to look carefully and remember as many details as possible. Give them 2-3 minutes for this. After that, take the pictures away or ask the students to cover them.

The next task is to write as many sentences as possible about what was happening in the picture, using the Past Continuous. Students can work alone, in pairs, or in small groups, depending on the number of people in the class. This step will take about 10 minutes.

Now the competition begins. Students should read 1 sentence at a time. The sentence must be grammatically correct and cannot be repeated. The student or team that makes the most correct sentences wins.

This task is excellent for developing speaking skills, students learn to notice and correct mistakes, as well as understand the context and build sentences correctly.

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Past Simple Concentration

In one of my groups, there was a student who had a problem with the Past Simple because he couldn’t remember the irregular verbs. 

Other students already knew all three forms. In order to help him keep up with the others, we played a game that helped solve this problem. However, I made some changes to it so that the whole class could play.

For this game, you will need a board, a marker, and a grid with irregular verbs. On the board you need to draw a grid of 3 by 6 or 4 by 5 cells, depending on how many verbs you plan to learn with your students. In each cell, write down the number corresponding to the number in your grid.

For example:

In my case, it’s 1 and 2. For example, you should have a similar grid, but with words written in it. It can be the 1st and 2nd forms of the verb, or 2nd and 3rd forms.

Divide students into 2 teams: As and Bs

  • A student from team A calls a number. You write the verb corresponding to the number in the cell on the board. 
  • A student from team B calls the next number. You also write the word. If these are forms of one verb, for example, buy-bought, the student from team B is credited with 1 point.
  • Then he calls the next number, and so on. in turn.

 If these were forms of different verbs, the teacher erases both verbs. Students should remember what verbs they were because students will need them later. The team that collected more pairs wins.

You can extend this game by asking students to make sentences with the verbs they have collected. If it was the first and second forms — sentences in Present Simple and Past Simple, or Past Simple and Past Continuous. If second and third — Past Simple and Present Perfect. Depending on what you want to focus on.

Even adults enjoyed playing this game. You can also give it as homework because there are many online versions of this game: Irregular Verb Memory Match.

Past Simple vs Past Continuous Picture Game

The whole class can play the game both online and offline. You will need the following video:

All you have to do is look carefully at the pictures and answer the questions, that is, guess what happened. If you divide the students into teams, the team that guessed the most situations wins. You can extend the game. Invite students to give their own answers to the questions.

Story chain

And finally, as a freer practice, the students composed their own stories. You can invent a completely new story, or come up with a continuation of the one you have already listened to or read in class.

Divide students into pairs or small groups. Or everyone works individually if you have a small group. Someone from the group starts the story. The next person in the group should continue the story. This is done until the story reaches its conclusion or until everyone has participated.

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You can start the story with a sentence or a topic that interests the students or is the topic of your lesson. Ask students to maintain intrigue or make unexpected plot twists.

For example: There was a man who was staring at a bag of chips. He hated these chips. He hated them a lot. This was because…

My students chose the second option and read a love story. And when the plot reached its climax, the students had to come up with a Happy Ending and a Sad Ending. When the students made up their own endings to the story, we listened to the real ending and discussed it. The main condition for the story chain was the use of tenses. Everyone did a great job.

No matter how difficult grammar is, our task is to create situations in which grammatical structures are used. It is then that students best understand what, when, and how to use, and do it effortlessly.

Article authors & editors
  • Yulia Chorna

    Yulia Chorna


    DELTA Module 1, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English



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