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ESL Simple Past Tense: Activities & Exercises

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

This lesson provides you with a few ideas to introduce the simple past tense in an ESL class. The practice in this lesson includes activities to check for understanding, but also fun games so students enjoy using this tense.

Tell Me All About It

To introduce the simple past tense, you could ask your students how their last weekend was. As you show interest in knowing what they did, your students will probably produce lots of sentences in the present form if they don't know the past. This is a great way to introduce the simple past form of the verbs they use.

The same excitement you show when listening to your students tell you about their weekend is the key to the simple past tense. You could tell your students how exciting it is to talk to family, friends, coworkers and classmates, about what we did yesterday, last weekend, last night, last year, etc.

In fact, one of the most exciting things they can do is to tell others about what they learned in their ESL class during the last two weeks. Your students can talk about this as a way to remember their lessons and actively use the simple past tense.

Once they have this context, you could give your students a list of past time words that go along with this tense, including but not limited to: 'this morning,' 'yesterday,' 'last night,' 'an hour ago,' etc.

Regular Verbs First, Irregular After

One of the easiest way to get students engaged into learning the simple past tense is by introducing the regular verbs with 'ed' ending. For example, 'walked,' 'talked,' 'cleaned,' 'learned,' 'visited,' etc. Students usually feel at ease when they find there is an easy rule to remember, such as the one to form the simple past tense of regular verbs. After, students can learn the most common group of irregular verbs. For example, 'ate,' 'bought,' 'went,' etc.

Once students have this grammar context, they can practice with any verbs through a few interesting activities as the ones below.

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