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. A variety of listening and speaking activities really helps.

1 Past tense conversational questions

These English as a Second Language (ESL) activities focus on enabling students to practice using the past simple tense through one-on-on or pair work conversations. The PDFs comprise two categories of scenarios: open-ended (Wh questions) situations and yes/no scenarios, each supplemented with potential responses and follow-up questions that help expand the conversation.

Simple past tense verb to do conversational questions (PDF)

Simple past tense verb to be conversational questions (PDF)


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2   A Bad vacation past tense  role play speaking  activity  (with answers)

 In this past tense simple activity students listen to the audio and complete the role play 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 create a role play using their own ideas.

Bad Vacation past tense activity (PDF)

(view as a video on Youtube)

Bad vacation

3  Introducing elementary past tense vocabulary (and listening)

    NB: I just added video to this exercise. This is an ESL listening/vocabulary 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)

(student worksheet)

(see the YouTube video)

Elementary past tense vocabulary dictation

4 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. Also, there are 2 example conversations that can be used as listening exercises.

Create a past tense conversation (PDF)

(see the YouTube video)

Past tense conversation

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 Good Day past tense exercise (PDF)

(see the video on YouTube)

A Good Day

6 Past tense endings pronunciation updated (with answers and audio and video)

    This is a second exercise to help students  understand, practice or review  the past tense endings.  

Past tense endings pronunciations 2 (PDF)

(Past tense “ed” endings YouTube video)

Past tense endings 2

7  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 exercise (PDF)

A Bad Day

Past Continuous and “Used to” Exercises

7 Illustrated News Story Telling Exercises for  ESL Students

10  Adjectives Exercises Including Adjectives for People and Things 

3 Parts of Speech Exercises

6 Picture-Based Present Continuous Worksheets (PDF)

8 Preposition Exercises for Location, Time and Movement (PDF)

5  Useful Passive Voice Practice worksheets

6  Present Perfect Language and Speaking Worksheets

4 Excellent Exercises for Aspects of Nouns

3 Great Exercises for the 2nd Conditional (PDF)

8 Lost person  roleplay

This is an ESL or English language  role play listening /speaking lesson  for  practicing conversational English.  It’s a bit of an old classic and allows for imagination and creativity while practicing the past tenses and vocabulary for describing people.

Lost person role play (PDF)

See the video on YouTube

9 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.

Past tense verbs and sentences 1 (PDF)

Past tense sentences

10 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 (PDF)

Past tense sentences with time phrases

11 Past tense endings pronunciation worksheet (with audio and 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. 

Past tense endings pronunciations (PDF)

Past tense endings 1

12   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)

13 Bad Christmas role play/speaking activity

This is a fun Christmas role play activity in the past tense. Students can listen to the audio or watch the video and match the vocabulary to the pictures. Then they can answer the questions or create their own “Bad Christmas” role play.

(download PDF)

(see the video on YouTube)

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