If you’re looking for some Past Continuous games, activities, worksheets and lesson plans, then you’re certainly in the right place. Keep on reading for the best ideas, along with past simple vs past continuous teaching tips.
What is the Past Continuous?
The past continuous is used to describe actions or events which began in the past and were still happening when something else occurred. It’s often used for background information in a story in the past tense. English teachers and ESL textbooks often teach the past continuous and the simple past together.
Here are some examples of the past continuous:
- I was driving to the beach but then I saw some huge storm clouds so I turned around.
- They were waiting for the bus when they saw the big car accident.
- When he came over, I was taking a shower and didn’t hear the doorbell.
Past Continuous Games and Activities
Let’s get into the best past continuous exercises to consider doing with your students.
#1: What’s Everyone Doing?
This activity sounds complicated but it’s actually quite simple once you get going! Make up a bunch of action cards (sleep, eat ice cream, drink, jump, jogging, doing yoga, etc.). Divide the class into two teams.
One student from each team goes outside. Another student gets a card and has to start doing the action. The person outside the class from team #1 comes into the class. His team has to make a correct sentence:
- Tony was doing yoga when Tim came into the classroom.
Repeat the process with the second team:
- Jenny was eating ice cream when Jerry came inside.
Each team gets a point for a grammatically correct sentence. It’s possible to increase the difficulty by requiring the person coming into the classroom to do a specific action as well (run, skip). For example:
- Tony was doing yoga when Tim ran into the classroom.
- Jenny was eating ice cream when Jerry skipped into the class.
#2: What can you Remember?
Find a picture that shows some action with people getting interrupted. Assign names to each person in the picture. A park is a good example. Students have to study the picture for two minutes, and then hide the picture. It’s basically a memory activity.
In teams, students have to make as many factually true and grammatically correct sentences as they can using the target grammar. For example:
- Kim was jogging when she got tripped by a dog.
- Terry was eating ice cream when the ice cream fell off the cone.
- The kids were hiding when their Mom found them.
#3: Past Simple vs Past Continuous Game
#4: What were you Doing?
This is a simple activity that can be done in small groups of 3. The first student chooses a time in the past (7:30 last night). The next student makes a true statement about what they were doing (At 7:30, I was watching TV). The next student takes that information and makes a sentence using the past continuous, adding information of their own (While Tim was watching TV, I was eating dinner).
Continue until all students have a chance to do all roles and then repeat once more.
#5: Running Dictation
This is one of my favourite ESL games and works really well for this unit. Find, or write a short story that contains lots of examples of the past continuous and simple past.
Students have to work together to dictate the story, sentence by sentence. After that, they have to put the story in the correct order. The first team to do this correctly wins. Check it out:
#6: Basketball Game Challenge
This is a fun game that’s ideal for playing if you have a large classroom or access to something like a gymnasium. Make teams of three for the students to play in. Instead of having to make a sentence related to a flashcard, do this:
- The teacher says a time in the past (3:30 pm yesterday)
- Student A says what they were doing (coming home from school)
- Student B says what they were doing (going to my dentist appointment)
- The third student makes a sentence (Tim was coming home from school while Tony was going to his dentist appointment).
Try it out:
#7: Teaching Ideas for the Past Tenses
#8: Concentration Memory Game
Make, or find a bunch of cards that show action. For example:
- ride a bike
- cook dinner
- feel sick
- starts to rain
In small groups, students have to place the cards face down in an organized fashion. The first student has to take two cards and then try to make a past continuous sentence. If correct, they can keep the cards and get one point. For example (ride bike/fall):
- I was riding my bike when I fell off.
Some don’t make sentences (ride bike, cook dinner) that make sense and the student can return the two cards to their original place and the next student goes. The teacher can act as a referee. Find out more:
#9: Dialogue Substitution
Maybe your students are kind of like mine? Whenever I ask them to read a dialogue from the textbook, they read it but don’t pay close attention to what they’re reading. Of course, it’s totally my own fault! I haven’t given them a reason to pay attention.
To turn this into an activity more focused on meaning, I remove some of the key words or grammatical features. In this case, things related to the past continuous or simple past.
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 137 Pages - 09/27/2020 (Publication Date)
#10: Convince Me
This is a simple card game best played in groups of 4. Make up a deck of cards filled with simple daily actions such as
- brush teeth
- eat breakfast
- check cellphone
- talk on phone
The first student has to choose another student and ask a question related to time. I generally make a rule that you can’t ask questions for between 11 pm and 7 am because almost everyone is sleeping during that time.
- What were you doing at 6 pm?
The student has to choose a card and make a sentence:
- At 6 pm, I was exercising.
The three students vote on whether or not it sounds likely. If yes, the person that made that sentence gets the card and a point. If not, the person that asks the questions gets the cards and a point. Some sentences won’t make sense such as:
- At 7 pm, I was eating breakfast.
#11: Past Continuous Charades
Charades is a fun game that requires pairs of students to act out things that the rest of their team can guess. For example:
- I was eating pizza when someone grabbed it.
- I was sleeping when someone woke me up.
#12: What were you Doing?
#13: Picture Prompt
It’s often the case that students already know a fair bit about a given vocabulary set or grammatical point unless they are absolute beginners. If you suspect that this might be the case, then picture prompt is a nice warmer activity that helps students activate their prior knowledge.
Show a picture with lots of action and elicit the students what they see.
- What’s happening?
- The man is jogging.
- His dog?
- Tripping him with the leash.
- Oh…the man is jogging when his dog tripped him with his leash.
This is a challenging listening activity that’s ideal for higher-level students. Find, or write a story in the past tense using lots of examples of the target grammar.
Put students into pairs and then read it out at a faster than normal pace. Students have to take notes and with their partner, attempt to recreate what they heard. Repeat the process and then students can compare what they have with the original story. Have a look:
#15: Sentence Building Activities
Time spent working on sentence structure in a TEFL class is never wasted time! Sentences are the foundation of any language and the past continuous can certainly be a little bit tricky. For some of the best ideas, have a look here:
#16: Vocabulary Auction
This activity does require a bit of preparation but I find that it’s totally worth it to do it at least once during the semester. This is particularly true if I can recycle the activity from class to class.
Write a bunch of sentences using the past continuous and then cut out each word. In groups, students have to bid on words that they think will help them make past continuous sentences. After that, students make their sentences and can trade with other groups if necessary.
#17: Puzzle Finder
This is a nice activity for beginners who are learning this for the first time. Make some sentences and put the first action and the second action on separate puzzle pieces. Students have to circulate around the class, trying to find their match. After that, spend some time helping students make grammatically correct sentences with the puzzle pieces.
Past Continuous Worksheets
I love to use some worksheets in my classes or to assign them for homework. The good news is that other people have done the hard work. Here are some of my favourites:
Past Continuous ESL Lesson Plans
If you’re a teacher, then you already know how much time it can save to use lesson plans that other teachers have already created. Here are some of the top picks, including ones for past simple vs past continuous:
Lingua House (simple past vs. past continuous)
Did you like these ESL Past Continuous Games and Activities?
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 87 Pages - 10/24/2019 (Publication Date)
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You can find the book in a variety of formats. Consider keeping a copy on the bookshelf in your office to use as a handy reference guide. Or, taking the digital version with you to your favourite coffee shop for some lesson planning on the go. Or, listen to the audio version on your way to work for a dose of inspiration.
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Have your Say about teaching the Past Continuous
Do you have any tips or tricks for teaching past continuous? A game or activity that you’d like to share with us? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
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Last update on 2021-10-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API