Y: Younger Years: Talking About the Past [Teacher Tips from A to Z]

Y: Younger Years: Talking About the Past [Teacher Tips from A to Z]

No matter how old your students are, they have a past filled with memories. Talking about past events is a daily occurrence for most people, and it is therefore very important for your ESL students to know how to talk about their pasts.

Once your students have learned the four past tenses of English, use this review to cement them in your students’ minds.

Y: Younger Years. How To Review Past Tenses In Your ESL Classroom

  1. 1

    The Simple Past

    The simple past is used to communicate a past event that began and ended in the past. This event is often a onetime occurrence like a trip or an activity. I drove to Niagara Falls. She flew to Florida. They bought a house. Remind your students to form the simple past by using the past participle form of the verb (-ed form). Once everyone is clear on when to use the simple past and how to form it, it is time to practice. Ask your students to think of one thing they did last year. This event might be a trip that they took or a movie that they saw. Have your students share these events with a partner. You can show them how to preface their statement with, “Last year…” After each pair has shared two or three events from the previous year, show your students how to identify even later times. Explain to them that “The year before last…” refers to a time two years ago, and help them understand that for more time than two years they should say “Three years ago…four years ago…” etc. Encourage your students to share events that they remember from certain years by using this time structure. Once the conversation begins to slow, it is time to move to the past progressive tense.

  2. 2

    The Past Progressive

    Your students have mastered the simple past, and now it is time to move on to the past progressive. The past progressive is used to talk about an action that was in progress at one specific point in the past and continued after a second event occurred. The event in progress may be something short term like reading a book or studying, or it might be something long term like living in a foreign country or studying a particular subject. When using the past progressive, your students will have to relate the event in progress to a second event. To form the past progressive, students should use the past form of “be” with the progressive or –ing form of the verb. To practice this tense, give your students a list of specific points in time or have them brainstorm as a class to list some events. Your list should include events like New Year’s Eve last year and specific points in time like ten o’clock last night. Have your students practice forming sentences starting with the specific event and using the past progressive tense of the main verb. For example, “On new year’s eve last year I was waiting in Times Square.” You should also review with your students the appropriate prepositions to use with past times: in for a year, on for a day, at for a time. Then let students share their past experiences with their partners using the appropriate time preposition and the past progressive tense.

  3. 3

    The Past Perfect

    After your students are comfortable with the past progressive and understand when to use that tense, it is time to move on to the past perfect. The past perfect is different from the past progressive because in the past perfect, one action was completed in the past before a second event also in the past. The past perfect is formed by using the past of the verb “have” paired with the perfect form (your students may know this as the –ed form or the third form) of the main verb. Give your students some time to think about the events that they listed in the last activity and to identify some events that they completed before those listed events occurred. For example, your students may share a statement like the following with their partner: at ten o’clock last night I had finished my homework. “In January, I had already studied Thanksgiving traditions” is another possibility. They will continue to use prepositions of time, but additionally you may want to encourage your students to use the adverb “already” when using the past perfect tense. Point out that “already” should be placed between the auxiliary verb (had) and the main verb in their sentences such as, “On Tuesday I had already seen that movie.

  4. 4

    The Past Perfect Progressive

    The final past tense in your comprehensive review will be the past perfect progressive. This tense is used to communicate an event that was in progress at one particular point in the past but may not have continued past a second event in the past. It also stresses the length of time the first event was in progress. Students will form this tense by using the past form of “have” with the perfect form of “be” and the progressive form of the main verb. For example, ”I had been studying” is the past perfect progressive form of study. You will want to highlight to your students that they can use “for” followed by a length of time after the main verb to indicate how long the event had been in progress. They should follow this clause with a dependent clause starting with “when” to identify the second event. For example, I had been studying for two hours when you called. The verb in the dependent clause should take the simple past. To practice this tense, have your students list what they did yesterday and the times they did them. Have them compare the events of their days with one another. They can then talk about each of their days in reference to their partners. You should encourage statements like, “I had been sitting in class for two hours when you woke up,” or “I had been at the cafeteria for thirty minutes when you arrived.”

A person’s past is an important part of who they are. Reviewing verb tenses while talking about the past will help your students strengthen their grammar skills as well as share a piece of their lives with their friends.

You may learn a thing or two about your students as well when they share their past life with your class in this past tense verb review.

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