3 Activities to Practice the Simple Past

What communicative activities have you used to help students gain accuracy and comfort with the simple past? My two basic level students (see YT playlist) have been practicing the future with will and be going to. After this, I plan to shift to the simple past. Since we’ve already practiced was and were, I’m actually going to continue with more irregular verbs before focusing on the spelling and pronunciation rules for -ed endings.

Feel free to add on to my list of easy-to-do activities.

1. Retelling Fairy Tales – My two students did a great job recalling well-known tales in the present tense. They both knew Little Red Riding Hood. One student had to help me tell the other about Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We then laughed over the ways we could change the tales, and we retold the stories in the future. For instance, “This time the grandmother will fight the wolf.” (See handout.) Now that two tales are familiar, I can ask them to tell the stories again in the simple past.

This activity works just fine whether students are familiar with the tales or not. If they know the stories, less prompting is needed. If they don’t, then you can prompt them by saying a line in the present and then asking them to retell it in the past:
Teacher: Little Red Riding Hood goes into the woods with a basket for her grandmother.
Student: Little Red Riding Hood went into the woods with a basket for her grandmother.

You can prepare the students by recalling the irregular verbs they’ll need for the task. In fact, another option is to recall the entire plot in the present as a group, note the sequence of events in the present tense on the board, and then ask the students to retell the whole story in the past.

Students can share other fairy tales and legends from their own cultures in a similar manner. The story can be told in the present by one student, and then the class can retell it in the past.

Full stories can be shared on a discussion board.

2. Do-Did Round Robin. My students have practiced talking about other people and themselves in the present tense. (See video.) Basic level students should understand that the simple present is used to talk about present facts, interests, and habits. Have students take turns sharing one routine action in the present. The person on the left must ask if that action was done yesterday, last week, or last weekend.
Student A: I watch TV every night.
Student B: Did you watch TV last night?
Student A: Yes, I did.
Student B: I usually go to the gym on the weekend.
Student C: Did you go to the gym last weekend?
Student B: Yes, I did.

3. Then and Now Comparisons. I’m not the first to have students compare things of the past to things of today, like old-fashioned phones and modern cell phones. This is easy enough to do with photos you find online. You can collect your own set of images or start with mine. See my Then and Now_handout. You can focus more on speaking or writing if you wish, or you can do a combination, having students write their ideas and then share them orally with others.


Photo credit: Opel, Record, Auto, Classic by Capri23auto. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/photos/opel-opel-record-auto-classic-4105201/.

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