If you are a busy teacher, and aren’t we all, the words quick and easy are like music to the ear. That’s true for just about anything, and class activities are no exception.
The following activities review the past tense, and all of them are easy to bring into the classroom and need very little preparation. So if you’re pressed to get tomorrow’s lesson plans in place, here are plenty of ways to write and talk about yesterday and the past.
Try these quick and easy activities for reviewing the past tense with your ESL students
Tell Me About Your Week
With students working in pairs, have each person take turns asking questions about their partner’s week. Using the simple past, one student asks his partner if they did specific activities in the past week. For example: Did you go to the dining hall? Did you pet a dog? Did you eat spaghetti? Their partner answers each question with a complete sentence using the simple past. Then they switch roles. Have students keep asking questions until you think the activity has gone on long enough. This activity is a good opportunity for you to assess students’ abilities to ask questions using the simple past.
What Did You Do Last Summer?
Ask your students to remember a trip or vacation that was especially interesting to them. Then have each person take a turn telling the class or a group of around four about that vacation. What did they do? What did they see? How did they feel?
A Generation Apart
Many things change from one generation to another. Have students write 10-20 sentences describing their lives in the 21st century. Then, have them write the same sentences describing life for their parents or grandparent. For example, a student might write the following two sentences: I connect with my friends with text messages. My parents connected with friends on the telephone.
It is twenty years in the future. Your students are talking to their children about their childhood. Have students role play, one as the parent and one as the child. The child asks questions about the parent’s childhood, and the parent answers them. Both the questions and the answers should use the simple past.
Keeping in Touch
Have your students think of a historical figure that had an important impact on their home country. Students should write a paragraph about that historical figure describing what that person did and how their actions changed their country. If you prefer, have students write about someone in the entertainment industry or a great literary figure.
Tell Me What Happened
If you have internet access in your room, you can bring a listening activity together with your past tense activity. Show your students a simple how to video (you can find a clip on just about any topic on YouTube). After they have watched the clip, ask your students to tell you what the person did in the video. Students can work together to recount the process. Then, watch the video again. This time, have each student write out what the instructor did in a simple list of sentences or a paragraph.
The Perfect Slip
Before class, think of some activities a person might do, preferably those that take more than one step to complete. For example, make breakfast, brush your teeth, drive a car, change a tire, work out, etc. If you like, tie the actions into your current thematic unit. Then write the actions on small slips of paper and put them in a bag. When you are ready to do the past tense activity with your class, one person comes to the front of the room and pulls a slip of paper from the bag. He reads his action and then mimes it for the entire class. After the mime is complete, the rest of the class guesses what that person’s action was, using the past tense to form the questions. Once someone has guessed correctly, have the class recall the specific actions the person performed. The person who guessed the activity correctly gets to mime the next one.
Take a Walk
If it’s nice outside, you can get some fresh air while still gathering information for this past tense review. Take your class to your school playground or any other natural area. Encourage students to observe carefully what they see, hear, smell, and feel. When you return to your classroom, ask students to share what they saw, heard, smelled, and felt while using the past tense of these verbs. If you prefer, have students write several sentences describing their walk and what they experienced on it.
The Dinosaurs Did It
If you teach young students in your ESL class, they will have fun talking and learning about the dinosaurs. Bring some books into your classroom about dinosaurs, and let students read them during free reading periods or at a reading center. You could also ask your librarian to read your class a few books on the extinct creatures. Once your class has learned something about the dinosaurs, have them write a brief research paper. (It’s even more fun if the paper itself is in the shape of a dinosaur.) The papers should describe the dinosaurs’ habits – what they did, what they ate, how they lived, etc. If you like, assign a different type of dinosaur to each person in your class and have them do specific reading on their species. Display your students’ work on a bulletin board titled “The Dinosaurs Did It”.
How Was Your Date?
In this simple role play, two students have a conversation about a fictional date. In this scenario, a friend has gone on his or her first date with someone. Her good friend is trying to help her decide if she wants to go on another date with that person. The friend should ask the dater about the date and about the person they were with using the simple past. That person answers their questions, again in the simple past. Continue the role play until the friend can advise the dater whether she should plan for a second date. Change rolls and have students play out the scenario again.
For students who wish to have strong English skills, the past has to be very present in the ESL classroom.
These activities are quick, easy, and can take as little or as much time as you like. All of them will give your students additional practice using the past tense in English, and your students will be proud to say that they got it.
What are your go to activities for reviewing the past tense?