Do you want to teach past tense in an interesting, engaging and student-centred way? Then you’re certainly in the right place as we have the best ideas for past tense ESL activities and games, along with worksheets and lesson plans. Keep on reading for some ESL teaching awesome.
How to Teach Past Tense: ESL Activities
Let’s get to the best activities for the past tense to consider using in your English classes, or you may also want to check this out: past continuous activities.
#1: ESL Surveys Using the Past Tense
Just ask my students and they’ll tell you that I love to use surveys in my TEFL classes! I like them so much because they cover a range of skills, are interactive and also easily adapted to just about about topic or gramma point including the past tense.
It’s easy to make your own related to questions from the past. Learn how here:
#2: Dictogloss Past Tense Story Activity
A fun but challenging ESL activity that works well with the past tense is dictogloss. Find a story (or make your own) of someone talking about something in the past. Then, read it out quickly to your students at a faster than normal pace for their level. They have to work together in pairs to replicate what they heard.
Then, read it again and students add more to what they got the first time. After that, have students compare their version with the original one. Sounds fun? Learn more:
#3: Teaching Past Tense with this Postcards Writing Activity
If you think about it, writing a post card involves using almost exclusively past tense verbs! After all, you’re talking about what you’ve already done on a vacation for the most part. A fun writing activity is to find some postcards (or have students make their own) and then students can write about a fictional vacation.
Find out all the details about it here:
Postcards ESL Writing Activity.
#4: Typhoon TEFL Game
#5: ESL Spelling Game for Past Tense Verbs
If you’re teaching beginners about irregular past tense verbs, it can be useful to do this spelling activity. The way it works is that you say a past tense verb and two students have to race to write it on the board.
Or, if you want to increase the difficultly level, then consider saying the present tense verb (eat) and students have to write the past tense form (ate).
Sounds like fun? It is! Learn more about it here:
#6: A to Z Past Tense Verbs Game
A fun way to review spelling of past tense verb is with this alphabet challenge game. The way it works is that students, in pairs or groups of 3 write down the alphabet on a piece of paper. Then, they have to think of a past tense verb that starts with each letter. For example:
A = ate
C = came
F = fished
The team with the most words at the end of the allotted time is the winner. Want to know more? You can check it out here:
#7: Hot Potato Game
#8: Past Tense Dictation Activity
A simple way to review the past tense is to do this writing activity. Find (or write your own) passage that includes a lot of past tense verbs. Then, read it out slowly and have students write down what they hear. Besides working on verb forms, it also covers writing, listening, punctuation, spelling, etc.
Find out more here:
#9: Proof-Reading and Editing
Although it’s a bit dry, proof-reading is an important skill for English writing and a nice way to teach past tense. In this case, you’d want to focus many of the errors on verbs and the past tense, although you could also have some mistakes related to punctuation, spelling, etc.
Learn more about it here:
ESL Proof-Reading and Editing Activity.
#10: Is that Sentence Correct?
A nice way to get students on the correct forms or past tense sentences is to use this error correction activity. First of all, students have to decide if a sentence is correct, or not. If it’s not, they can make whatever changes they need to to make it correct. In this case, you’d probably want to focus most of the errors on past tense verbs.
Want to find out more? Check this out: ESL Error Correction Activity.
#11: Me Too Past Tense Speaking Activity
A quick, fun way to teach past tense is to use Me Too! The way it works is that students have to say true statements about themselves from the past. For example,
- I grew up in Edmonton.
- I used to hate cilantro but now I like it.
Whoever can agree with the statement raises their hand and says, “Me too!” Learn more here:
Me Too! ESL Speaking Activity.
#12: ESL Past Tense Practice
#12: Concentration ESL Memory Game
A fun way to teach past tense verbs and help students work on their memory skills is with concentration. The way it works is that you write a present tense verb on one card and then the matching past tense one on another. After that, it becomes a memory game as students try to get as many matches as possible.
Want to know more? Check it out here: ESL Concentration Game.
#13: Mixed Up Sentences
The past tense can be a little bit tricky when you get into negative forms. That’s why I like to use this activity with my students that helps them make past tense sentences. Find out everything you need to know about this ESL grammar activity here:
ESL Mixed Up Sentence Activity.
#14: Error Correction Game
#15: ESL Board Games
It’s super easy to make your own board games for English class on just about any topic or grammar point, including the past tense. Fill the board with various questions about the past, or answers and then students have to come up with the questions. Sounds fun? It is! Find out more about it here:
#16: Error Correction Relay Race
I love using this review game in my classes because it takes something old (error correction) and makes it new and fun again by turning it into a relay race. Find out all the details about this ESL review activity here:
Error Correction Race ESL Game.
#17: Freeze Group Writing Activity
When telling a story, past tense verbs are used. It only makes sense, right?
A nice way to review past tense verbs is to have students do this group writing activity. They have to work together to collaboratively create some fun and interesting stories. Sounds fun? Try it out:
#18: The Memory Circle
A nice way to teach the past tense, particularly irregular verbs is to play this simple memory game about what people did the previous night. Have a look here:
#19: Round Robin Story
This is a fun story-making activity that can easily use the past tense. Have a look here to find out more:
TEFL Round Robin Story Activity.
#20: Third Conditional Activities
We use the third conditional to express an unreal situation in the past. It’s a nice thing to teach to higher-level students. have a look here at some of the top ideas:
#21: Was Were Activities
Check out these engaging was were activities that are ideal for teaching the verb “to be” in the past tense. Have a look here:
#22: Spelling Challenge Game
Say the verb in the present tense and then have students race to write down the past tense form on the board. Try it out! It’s a fun activity.
ESL Past Tense Worksheets
There are a lot of great resources online for teachers who want to save some time when teaching the past tense. Here are some of our top picks for past tense verbs worksheets:
Past Tense ESL Lesson Plans
An easy way to save a ton of time to teach past tense is to use lesson plans that you can just print off and go. Here are some of the top picks:
Did you Like these Ideas for How to Teach Past?
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 87 Pages - 10/24/2019 (Publication Date)
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Keep a copy on the bookshelf in your office to use as a handy reference guide. Or, consider downloading the free Kindle reading app and taking it with you to your favourite coffee shop for some serious lesson planning on the go.
Either way, get ready for some ESL grammar teaching awesome in your life. Click below to find out more about the book on Amazon:
Have your Say about How to Teach Past Tense
Do you teach past tense with games, activities, worksheets or something else? 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 2022-07-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API