Teaching the Past Progressive

Past Progressive

My last post focused on the Past Simple and now we will be dealing with the Past Progressive.

The structure is not difficult since it is like the structure of the Present Progressive that students already know. The only difference is that we have to use the Past of the verb Be (was, were) instead of the Present of the verb Be (am, are, is).

Oral Activity introducing the Past Progressive

It might be a good idea to start the lesson by telling the class that we spent three hours correcting tests the evening before. Then we might ask the class.

What were you doing while I was correcting the papers?

What was your mother doing while you were doing your homework?

What were your brothers doing…?

When did you have dinner last night?

Did anything happen while you were having dinner?

Did any phone ring while you were having dinner?

Did you talk on the phone while the family was having dinner?

Then we might use a text that includes various examples of verbs in the Past Progressive. Students may be asked to identify the verbs in the Past Progressive and analyze the structure.

At this stage we have to deal with the main issue:

When do we use the Past Progressive as opposed to the Past Simple?

I think the following cases should be presented in regular classes.

  1. While I was sleeping the telephone rang.

    The telephone rang while I was sleeping.

    When the telephone rang, I was sleeping.

    I was sleeping when the telephone rang.

2. While I was sleeping the children were playing.

     The children were playing while I was sleeping.

In more advanced classes, I would also teach the following cases:

1. Dan said he was coming over later on, but he didn't.

2. What were you doing at eight o'clock? I think the easiest way to explain this case is to mention that this sentence actually means:

    What were you doing when the movie started (at 8 o'clock)?


After the text presentation and analysis of the different cases when we use the Past Progressive, it's time for some practice ( a short exercise in class) and then nothing remains but guided homework.

For further explanations, please see:

דקדוק אנגלי לדוברי עברית, עמ' 32-35.

For practice, please see:

The New Language Guidebook and Workbook,

p 31-32.

And that's all for today.

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