9 Incredibly Useful Past Tense Teaching Activities

Teaching the past tense is not easy. Students have to learn a whole new set of vocabulary. It’s tough.  Indeed, often, students have a mental barrier against learning and using it. Students learn and start to master the present simple tense and then suddenly they hit the past tense which presents them with a whole set of new vocabulary. Many elementary students stop right there and never really progress. As a teacher, I want a variety of activities to help me get students through this difficult learning stage.

1 Write a conversation exercise: simple past tense

Writing conversations with language cues is one good way of getting into the past tense.  Students have to think about  a past tense context and and create a  role play for this context. The language cues give them some assistance in guiding and developing their ideas.

Create a past tense conversation speaking activity.

Create a past tense conversation (PDF)

2  Elementary past tense vocabulary (and listening)

  This is an ESL exercise to introduce students to  the past  tense. Students match  phrases to  pictures as the teacher dictates past tense phrases using sentences to give context. This exercise is a great icebreaker and introduction to the past tense.  It  also works really well as an online listening assignment. Just post page 1 and 2   (page 2 if students are being presented the vocabulary for the first time) of the PDF,  along with the audio file to Google Classroom.  Students listen to the audio, write the vocabulary on the pictures digitally and then return the assignment.

Elementary past tense vocabulary listening and dictation.

Elementary past tense vocabulary (PDF)

(audio for Elementary past tense vocabulary)

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3 Past tense  verbs and sentences  worksheet (with answers)

  This is an ESL exercise to help students  learn to use the past  tense. Students match the verbs to the pictures and then write short sentences for each picture. Click on the image below or the link at the right.to download the printable PDF file.

Past tense verb exercise with pictures

Past tense verbs and sentences 1 (PDF)

4 Making past tense sentences  with time phrases worksheet (with answers)

  This is another fairly elementary ESL exercise to help students  learn to use the past  tense. This time students match try to  write short sentences with past tense time phrases for each picture. 

Making past tense sentences with time phrases exercise

Making past tense sentences with time phrases (PDF)

5  A Good Day past tense  activity  (with answers)

 This is another  slightly more advanced ESL exercise to help students expand their knowledge of  past tense verbs. 

A grammar and past tense activity for ESL students

A Good Day past tense exercise (PDF)


6  A Bad Day past tense activity  (with answers)

 This exercise is a compliment to the exercise above. Of course, if you want to talk about things using the past tense, you need to be able to discuss and describe both good and bad situations. And often, in the classroom, bad situations are more interesting and fun.

A Bad Day past tense grammar exercise

A Bad Day past tense exercise (PDF)

7   A Bad Vacation past tense  speaking  activity  (with answers)


 In this past tense simple activity students create a story about a bad vacation using the vocabulary and the pictures. Alternatively, the pictures may be used as an example and students can be asked to use their own ideas.

Bad Vacation past tense activity (PDF)

8   Ghosts past tense simple grammar game

 Ghosts is a brilliant high energy game perfect for practicing the past tense. With a capable elementary or pre-intermediate class it can become something quite special.

Ghosts past tense grammar game

Ghosts past tense grammar game (PDF)


9 Past tense endings pronunciation worksheet (with answers)

    This is an exercise to help students  understand, practice or review  the past tense endings  and the different kinds of pronunciation for the “ed” endings of verbs with different spellings. Students sort the verbs into the appropriate column. Students then write some sentences which they can be asked to say out loud. 

Paste-tense-endings pronunciation

Past tense endings pronunciations (PDF)

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