Guiding Students to Form and Use the Past Progressive

Thankfully, a bunch of previously recorded lessons will allow me to continue publishing new videos in my Basic English playlist on YouTube. I’m up to Lesson 103 on the past progressive. In the video, I chose to use personal photos to prompt use of this verb form, but just about any photo with people can give learners something to talk about. Consider the featured photo on this post. What were all those people doing? Where was that? Students will likely be able to share a few different ideas.

But let’s back up. Basic English students first need to review the spelling rules for adding -ing to form the present participle. Consider using my Past Progressive_basic grammar_sorting task. Students can either work on a screen or on paper and sort 60 common verbs into three groups (page 1). Alternatively, they can cut out word cards and physically sort the verbs according to the spelling patterns (page 2). Check their work.

The next step is to prompt full sentences in a meaningful context. Using my handout, Past Progressive_basic grammar_statements, students will have enough support to describe five photos. This can be done as a class or in pairs. I’d encourage speaking, but you may also ask students to write sentences before they read the statements aloud to classmates. Additional photos can be added to this activity. (I recommend Pixabay.)

A final step would to be to have students share 1-2 personal photos with their classmates. Encourage an exchange that includes follow-up questions. Give a couple models:

Student A: This was at the beach. I was sitting with my friends.
Student B: You weren’t smiling. Were you tired?
Student A: No, the sun was shining. It was very bright.

Student A: This was last summer. I was playing soccer.
Student B: Where were you playing?
Student A: At a park near my home.
Student B: Who were you playing with?
Student A: I was playing with my friends.

Share one of your own photos and have students ask you questions. Review question word formation. Start with yes-no questions. Then move on to wh- questions. In my YouTube video, I asked learners to unscramble a couple of questions. This can also be done on the board:

1. were/you/going/where
[Where were you going?]
2. you/what/doing/were
[What were you doing?]
3. why/was/that/she/doing
[Why was she doing that?]
4. were/you/who/to/talking
[Who were you talking to?]

Here’s another approach to practicing the past progressive. Target possible activities that led to an accident. See my post Accident Happen (with a PDF handout).

Featured photo retrieved from

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Aana khan says:

    Hello Jennifer !past can be used in reported speech when something has changed or finished.if something is still true , then we have to use actual words. Now my question is. For example, Younger sister says, ” i don’t want to come with you , because I have seen the movie twice”, later, Elder sister tells her mother what her younger sister said she says ,mum. ” she didn’t want to come with us because she had seen this movie twice”. she is repeating what her sister said in the past, Both have the same meaning at all. there is just the difference time and first sentence is statement and second reported, Right? for example, A man is driving a car . He is so nervous during driving. He says to his friend.” i’am so nervous because i have never driven a car before”. Later, he uses Past verb in reported speech.” He says his wife ” I was nervous because I had never drive a car before ” ( here he uses past perfect because the situation has changed . he has no experience during driving , but after drive he has driving experience so, he can’t say now that “he has never driven a car before” because he has a driving experience now. “I ‘am nervous because i have never driven a car before. he is nervous now , and he has no driving experience yet”. ” I was nervous because i had never driven a car before . He isn’t nervous now , and he has driving experience too so, the situation has changed now”. am i right?

    1. Hi Aana. With reported speech, as you know, we often shift the verbs back a tense, but if the statement is still true or if it’s about a future event that hasn’t happened, then we can keep the verb forms. In your examples, “I’ve seen the movie twice,” is the present perfect because there’s a chance the action may repeat in the future. This chance still exists, so there’s an argument for keeping the present perfect: My sister didn’t want to come. She said she’s seen it twice already. (And she may see it again, but not now.) In the driving example, I agree that we’d shift the verb back because experience has erased the anxiety of driving for the first time: I was nervous because I’d never driven a car before.

  2. Aana khan says:

    I can’t share the picture here , but its written like that.”Karen didn’t come to the cinema with use.she had already seen the movie” Then what does this sentence mean and why they used in this way?

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