Past Tense Demystified in ELL Classroom

Hello everyone and Welcome to 2022 ~ it’s going to be a great year.
2021 is now in the past so what better time to talk about the past tense!
We all know the struggle that comes with introducing English learners to new verb tenses – the uncertainty, stress, and difficulty keeping everything straight can overwhelm the brightest child. As they progress past the basics, ELs can become downright anxious. So how can we help them succeed?
In my experience, simple examples coupled with fun activities offer ELs the best opportunity to gain real mastery of any English language concept.
It’s all too easy to get bogged down by complex explanations when it comes to teaching the differences between past continuous, past perfect, and past perfect continuous. This is where examples come in handy:
The past simple is something that was completed in the past; the verb probably ends with -ed.
The past continuous describes something that was happening over a period of time in the past; it uses the formula “was ____ing.”
The past perfect describes a completed action earlier (or farther) in the past; it uses the formula “had ____ed.”
The past perfect continuous describes what was happening over a period of time earlier in the past; it uses the formula “had been ____ing.”
Past simple I put up lights.
Past continuous I was putting up lights.
Past perfect I had put up lights.
Past perfect continuous I had been putting up lights.
For more advanced English learners, you can combine the different past tense forms into sample sentences for them to complete with you or on their own:
Steve _________ (to wait) for Nyla for 40 minutes before she __________ (to show) up at work.
Steve had been waiting for Nyla for 40 minutes before she showed up at work.
I don’t know about you, but I LOVE playing verb games with my students! They can’t get enough of it and are acquiring deeper knowledge with every minute they play. That’s a win-win for sure!
I’ve had tremendous success with the Past Tense Verbs Games in particular. They feature rules that are easy to learn along with materials that work at multiple levels of English mastery. That’s a win-win if there ever was one!

How do you tackle verb tenses with ELs? Comment below with your favorite tips, games, and ideas!

Happy Teaching! 💜

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *