Teaching Past Tenses: Activities & Games • Grade University

Useful activities for teaching past tenses

Useful activities for teaching past tenses

01.08.2023

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  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Grammar
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We all know that grammar is not exactly the most exciting or favorite thing for most students. 

For both kids and adults doing some, let’s say past tenses activities, is associated with something complicated (“I can’t understand why they have regular and irregular verbs” ), obscure (“So, why can’t I say “Were you eat your dinner?”, I thought we need to use was/were for past” ) or even unnecessary (“So, how often do native speakers really use this grammar?” ). 

But are there any chances that we can change this attitude by implementing some fun and useful activities for teaching past tenses into our lessons? Of course! Here are some ideas on how to teach past tense and spice up every stage of your lesson plan.

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Past tenses activities: Reading

Reading is great for practicing past tenses due to the narrative nature of such exercises and the opportunity to implement stories. So, let’s discover some past tenses activities that combine both grammar and reading. 

Normal Day vs Yesterday

Main idea: Ask students to read/write a short text about their normal day, ask them to exchange the texts and redo them into the past versions.

This task is a nice shift from working with present tenses to teaching past tenses. You may prepare a special worksheet where a person describes their everyday routine or so-called normal day. Then, you ask your students to recreate  the text as if all the story happened in the past. It’s a good way to practice past tenses and see whether students can effectively use all the rules.

Another variation of this exercise is to ask students to write a short text about their own normal day. After that, students are supposed to exchange the texts and create versions about the past.

You may even combine writing, reading and speaking past tenses activities with the help of the following task: students write down their texts, exchange them to remake into the past, and after either exchange them again for completing a speaking exercise or simply join pairs with the same cards. 

In pairs, students compare the normal day and yesterday of their group mates minding using correct present and past forms. Ask your students to mention some interesting facts and details to make the task more engaging. 

The only disadvantage of such exercises is that they are quite hard to organize online. However, with small groups, you may consider the option of pinning the texts on Padlet, so everyone can see them and find the one to redo or discuss. This task suits both kids and adults perfectly.

Learn how to teach reading more effectively!

Word Sort

Main idea: Prepare a text, ask students to find the verbs and sort them into the two categories (regular and irregular). You may set  a time limit.

Prepare a text or a story for students to read. It shouldn’t be very long but it has to contain regular and irregular verbs that students are supposed to find.

In addition to the text, create some kind of sorting template where students will be writing their ideas. The point of the exercise is to find all the verbs and sort them into the regular and irregular categories. 

You, of course, may do it without a text, however, doing this activity in combination with reading allows students to practice reading and grammar by searching for the verbs in context. Also, it’s nice if you follow an exact topic during your lessons: it’s easier then to make teaching past tenses fit in the lesson’s narrative.

If you work online, don’t hesitate to use the Padlet board for this task too.

Proof-reading

Main idea: Students read and edit the same text and compare their ideas after.

An editing task may sound boring but the success of this useful grammar activity depends on you. Your students have to imagine themselves as experienced editors in a very serious publishing company or magazine. 

Give them an interesting text to read and edit and some time to think what should be corrected here. Ask your students to compare their results after they are done. 

Let the students compare their ideas and find out who is the most successful editor of the group.

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Past tenses activities: Listening

Listening is also an integral part of contextualizing grammar. Let’s see what exercises we may assign to our students while teaching past tenses.

Tense Hunt (Reading / Listening)

Main idea: Students read/listen to certain text and look for (“hunt”) for as many examples of past tenses as possible. The task may include time limit and group search.

Tense hunt is one of the greatest past tenses games for revising or teaching past tenses. Prepare a text and ask students to read it. While carefully reading the text, students are also supposed to look for the sentences with certain tenses. To make it more engaging and competitive, make it a group exercise which they have to complete within a certain period of time. 

We have just discussed the Reading Tense Hunt. However, this activity is also great as a part of listening comprehension. This time you read the text and students note all the examples of past tenses that they hear. Afterwards, you may ask your students to compare their ideas and praise the person who managed to hear the biggest amount of past tenses examples

Draw Me a Story

Main idea: A nominated student shares a story, but only draws the ending instead of telling it. Other students have to guess the ending. Focus on grammar.

Another funny past tenses game that students like is Draw Me a Story. Here, the teacher nominates a student who has to come up with some kind of a short story (4–5 sentences are usually enough). 

However, the student doesn’t finish their story. Instead they quickly draw a picture that is supposed to contribute to the ending of the story somehow. All other students who have been listening to the story carefully, take turns to guess the meaning of the drawing. 

All the students have to be focused not only on the plot but on correct grammar structures as well, so don’t forget to emphasize on that. Draw Me a Story turns out to be not only an interesting listening exercise but also a past tenses speaking activity. 

Movie Focus

Main idea: Create grammar worksheets based on movies and songs and contextualize grammar.

Finally, an old but gold trick: using movies and songs for teaching past tenses (and any other grammar)! We can’t underestimate watching authentic materials and studying over the exposure. That is why a lot of teachers choose to teach past tenses through the extracts from favorite movies. 

Here are some useful resources to create your perfect grammar worksheet:

 

Also, don’t hesitate to leave your favorite resources in the comment section!

More ideas on teaching listening

Past tenses activities: Writing

It’s All In The Past

Main idea: Write prompts, see what your students come up with while using correct past tenses.

The teacher prepares a certain amount of prompts (words, phrases, and, of course, basic forms of the verbs) that students are supposed to implement in their past tenses activity. Students have some time to write a story where they have to use as many prompts as possible as well as apply the correct grammar

After that students may share their ideas in groups and do a peer check or present their story front. Anyway, it turns out to be one of amusing past tenses games rather than a simple exercise

Wiki Who

Main idea: Students write a Wiki article about themselves/ famous people/ group partners using correct past tenses.

One of the alternatives for complicated past tenses games is just spicing up good old writing. Assign your students to write a Wiki profile about them. Naturally, they will need to mind past tenses and use them correctly. 

Another option would be choosing their favorite writer/ singer/ artist (the exercise may vary depending on the topic) and writing their profile. 

However, the most interesting and bonding variation of this task is asking to write a profile of their group mate. Such a task requires prior interviewing which also must be done in English and with the appropriate choice of past tenses. 

Send Me a Postcard / Storytime

Main idea: Students write a funny story using correct past tenses. Better make it a project, with pictures and details to be able to present in front of the class later.

Everyone has a story to share. It may be connected to a great traveling experience or embarrassing date. Either way they may become a part of teaching past tenses to your students. 

Ask students to write an interesting and funny story on the assigned topic. But don’t turn this task to an exhausting late-night paperwork. This task is a chance to combine writing with great past tenses speaking projects

Students create a presentation, attach interesting pictures, videos, memes and music, make their story lively and engaging. Usually these become the most memorable studying experiences. 

Past tenses activities: Speaking

Backwards Day

Main idea: Students describe their day backwards, then change a partner and retell the story in a normal way minding the correct usage of past tenses.

This past tenses game may sound weird, however, completing this exercise is harder than anyone could imagine. Divide students into pairs and ask each of them to describe their day to the other partner backwards starting with the last thing they did yesterday. Their partner should make notes. 

After that teacher has to change pairs, and students share the backward stories with their new partners but retell them in a normal way.

It takes concentration both on the plot and correct past tenses

Teach speaking even more effectively!

Picture this

Main idea: The students are presented with images and encouraged to make past tense’ statements about the pictures. Share them in groups.

Here is one of my favorite past tenses games. The teacher divides students into pairs or groups and presents them a set of pictures. Note: make them as interesting, funny and weird as possible

Then, ask your students to come up with a bunch of sentences where they describe the pictures using the correct structures with past tenses. I bet you’ll laugh a lot!

Find Someone Who

Main idea: Students get cards with certain past situations and try to find a groupmate who also had such an experience.

Last but not least, present a set of cards with some past situations written on them. During this activity students may walk around the classroom to find someone who also had such an experience. Once they find the person they need, students are supposed to ask for details and collect some interesting facts. 

This is one of the most beloved past tenses speaking exercises, however, don’t forget to emphasize that they should also pay special attention to using appropriate structures.

FAQ

What if my students aren’t motivated enough to do creative tasks and projects?

It’s a common struggle for many teachers who are teaching past tenses! Talk to your students and make it sound persuasive that the more they invest in the task and the more personal studying becomes, the better the results are because they simply make the most out of the course and know how to practically use certain grammar. 

Read more on how to teach past tenses and continue motivating students here:

Can I play Draw Me a Story if I teach online?

Sure! It’s also easy to play this past tenses game online as you may use some free online drawing tools or prepare a list of pictures or memes which students may choose instead of drawing.

What are the best apps to create a nice worksheet for my lesson?

Try using TopWorhsheetsLive WorksheetsMy Worksheet MakerWizerCanva or Miro. These apps have proved to be effective for creating past tenses activities for your students. 

Conclusion

To sum up, there are a lot of useful activities to consider putting into your lesson plan. What is more, they cover all types of activities. Therefore, you may forget about worrying whether your lessons are diverse, helpful, clear and interesting enough. Let us know which tasks you are going to try out!

There is no way you can play “Normal Day vs Yesterday” online.

"Picture This" usually turns out to be a very funny game.

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko

    Author

    Teacher of General English & IELTS

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