A quick review of Past Continuous tense will be helpful before you jump into any activities. Ask the students how to construct the tense and have some reminders up on the board. Remind them that the past tense clause expresses some kind of interruption into another activity which is the continuous clause. The interruption didn’t necessarily stop the continuous action, and most likely the continuous action still continued.
Past tense clause
Past Continuous clause (It doesn’t matter which one comes first.)
Your mom called while you were taking a shower.
The president coughed a lot while he was giving his speech.
I drove the car into the gas station just as it was running out of gas.
Three Activities for Past Continuous
What Were You Doing When…?
Often you can use Past Continuous tense to talk about memories, or for looking back on what was happening at a specific time. With this activity students ask each other questions that they may or may not remember the answer to. For example What were you doing last Tuesday night at dinner time? or What were you doing when xx important thing happened? You can explain that some historical events or other news events leave such an impression on us, we will always remember what we were doing at the time that thing happened. Sometimes our memories are very clear and sometimes they are not. You may want to provide prompts so the students get the idea and then have them generate their own questions. Some ideas for prompts are:
Last Thursday at dinner time
Princess Diana died
You can also make this into a bluff game by telling students who don’t remember to make something up. For example, I was doing laundry when my mom called or I was driving my car when I heard about 9/11. Their partners can then guess whether the answer is true or not.
This game is similar to the murder mystery Clue. You can set it up by having the students create the crime they are going to investigate. After that, students are divided into two groups--suspects and detectives. You want to have more suspects and just 2-4 detectives. The suspects each have to create a story of where they were and what they were doing at the time of the crime. They are then questioned by one of the detective students. The detectives must ask questions pertaining to Past Continuous by only asking questions about the time of the murder. For example they could ask questions like: What were you discussing? or Where was the doctor eating? If you want you could set up a jury as well and have the class vote as to who is guilty and why they don’t believe the alibi.
Have a stack of cards with random words prepared. Each student will choose two. In rounds have them create a sentence for their pair of words—one word for the past tense clause and one for the past continuous clause. For example, they draw the two words, drive and monkey. A possible sentence could be: I was driving down the street when I saw a monkey in the road. Or you can tell them to be more creative and allow some nonsense sentences. It does make it more challenging and fun if each of the words has to be used in a different clause. To make this activity even more involved you could have the students create sentences that somehow relate to the last person’s sentence to create a silly sort of story of things that were happening at a given time!
Past Continuous tense is an important one for learners and it may take some time to master it as well as fully understand how to use it.
Providing variable practice activities and tapping into students’ own experiences will provide an experiential way of practicing what could have been just another boring grammar point.
I am an ex-ESL teacher who has transitioned from that industry into the field of adult education. I have a long history of teaching ESL in numerous countries and varied classroom settings. I’ve also taught a variety of learners, but found I loved teaching teens and adults the best. I spent three years certifying and training want-to-be teachers in China and the Czech Republic. I am also a writer and editor interested in anything to do with education, travel, and lifelong learning.