Eight Simple Activities for Teaching the Simple Past


Susan Verner

by Susan Verner
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7 simple activities for teaching the simple past

Try These Simple Activities for Teaching the Simple Past

Simple Past tense: What is it?

When speaking or writing English, we use verbs in the simple past tense to talk about actions, states, or relationships that happened in the past and are completed. The most important part of the English language, the tenses, and their correct use is required if you want to say anything to anyone or write a correct sentence, or express an idea. Let’s start with the Simple Past tense.

  1. 1

    Charade Series

    In an activity similar to charades, have your students describe the steps in a process after their classmate acts it out. Have one student pantomime an activity like brushing his teeth or writing and mailing a letter. Once the charade is over, have your students describe each step in the process using the simple past.

  2. 2

    Dear Diary

    Writing about their day is a good way for your students to practice the written form of the simple past. Have students write about what they did yesterday paying particular attention to transitions of time (next, then, after that, finally, etc.).

  3. 3

    Accurate Endings

    Don’t skip pronunciation when you are working on the simple past. Though regular verbs will take the –ed ending to show they occurred in the past, -ed will not be pronounced the same for every word. Brainstorm a list of regular verbs and then have your students sort them into two groups. The past pronunciation of one group sounds like [d] and the other like [t]. Challenge your students to articulate the rule which determines which pronunciation to use.

  4. 4

    Preparations

    Have groups of students talk about a significant accomplishment in their lives. After sharing the accomplishment, ask each person to describe what she did leading up to the event. For example:

  • If she graduated college
  • She studied
  • Took the appropriate classes
  • Filled out her school’s paperwork

  1. activities for teaching the simple past

  2. 5

    Double Duty Review

    How much do your students remember from class yesterday? Find out by asking them to tell you what you did in class yesterday using the simple past. If the majority of your class travelled overseas to study English, have them share what they did before they came to the U.S.

  3. 6

    Good and Bad Days

    As a class, brainstorm what makes a day great, and then make another list for what makes a day bad. Have pairs of students ask each other questions and give answers about a day in the past. For example, one student might ask, “Did you spill your coffee yesterday?” The other would answer, “No, I didn’t spill my coffee yesterday.” This is a great way to practice questions and negative use of the simple past.

  4. 7

    Get Out and About

    Get your students out of the classroom to freshen up your grammar lessons. Take a short walk outside your school, and have students take notes on what they observe. When you come back to the classroom, have your students share what they experienced on the walk using the simple past. Outdoor activities can be productive and students can have fun.

  5. 8

    Today vs Yesterday

    On your whiteboard write Today on one side of the board and Yesterday on the other. List down typical activities in the past tense under Yesterday. Do the same under Today, this time using examples in the present tense. For example: 

    Today: 

    I eat breakfast at 7.00 am. 

    I go to school at 8.00 am I visit the school library 

    I play baseball after school 

    I watch TV at night 

    Yesterday 

    I saw a flock of birds 

    I met a new friend 

    I caught the bus to school 

    I went to visit my grandmother 

    We ate pizza for dinner 

    Students follow the examples and tell the class about what they did today and the previous day.

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