Accidents Happen: 3 tasks to practice the past progressive

Here’s an easy, engaging way to springboard into a grammar lesson on the past tense. Write three sayings on the board. (See below.) Ask the students to vote for the one they like the best. If you wish, invite them to explain their votes. The winning statement can become a banner for a day. Simply print it out, or have some fun with free graphic design software like Snappa.
– Bad times make the good times better.
– Bad times make you stronger.
– Bad times make good stories.

No one likes to dwell on bad times, but it’s quite a cathartic experience to share stories and realize we’ve all experienced being lost, losing our wallet or phone, tripping in front of others, spilling a drink down our shirt, etc. The conversation doesn’t have to become too personal or overly emotional. With the right atmosphere, you can even provoke laughter over poor choices we made in the past. Just consider what happened to lead to this photo:


With upper level students, multiple verb forms can be used to share a narrative. You can also prompt use of unreal conditionals: The woman was doing laundry at the laundromat. She lost a sock, so she reached in to look. It was a big, deep machine, and she ended up falling in. If she had asked someone taller to look, she could have avoided this embarrassing moment.

With lower level students, it would be useful to contrast the simple past and past progressive: The woman was doing laundry. She lost a sock. She wanted to look in the machine. She put her head in, but she fell in. It was an accident.

Check out this PDF for basic grammar students: It Was an Accident_handout. There are three short tasks that build upward in difficulty. Note that in the last speaking task, additional events can be suggested. The goal is to set students up so that they can confidently talk about a time when things went wrong.

Featured photo by stevepb. Retrieved from
Additional photo by Pexels. Retrieved from

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