Teaching the Past Simple

We have already completed  the Cycle of the Present  and we are now starting the Cycle of the Past.

The first tense we will deal with is the Past Simple.

We can start the lesson on the Past Simple with an oral activity where we would naturally use the Past Simple. We can talk about what we did the previous day, during the weekend or in the summer. If students don't use the Past Simple correctly, we will repeat the sentence using the correct tense of the verb without explaining the mistakes at this point.


Student: Yesterday I work three hours in my father's office.

Teacher: Oh, I see that you worked three hours in your father's office yesterday. That's great!

After the oral activity (about 10 minutes), we can move to a text that will introduce the Past Simple.

The text should be relatively easy. This will enable students to focus on the grammatical structure they are studying. They should not be expected to deal with new structures and new vocabulary at the same time.

The text should also be relatively short – 10 – 20 lines and interesting, geared to the students' interests.

A suitable text will include many examples of the Past Simple. The teacher will elicit questions, encourage students to find the verbs in the Past Simple, underline them, etc. Based on these questions, students will gradually be led to understand the structure of the Past Simple. They may be encouraged to find the rules themselves and write them on the board and in their notebooks.

The teacher will stress the basic structure – verbs ending in ed.

My mother worked in Tel Aviv last year and I worked in Haifa.

Later, we have to teach the spelling exceptions:

love – loved

cry – cried

stop– stopped

prefer – preferred

go -went

break – broke

Studying the Irregular Verbs or rather memorizing them might be a problem for some students. My suggestion is first of all to shorten the list. The verbs we rarely use like slay or heave might be removed from the list. The criterion should be: how often do we use that verb at the level of the class we are teaching. We should select the Irregular Verbs to be included in the list accordingly. Then we can divide the verbs into groups of 3-5 verbs according to the alphabetical order or according to similar patterns and assign a group to be memorized every lesson or every week. Continuous review and occasional dictations or creative exercises to review and test the verbs are most srongly recommended.

After presentation of the new structure in context and analysis of the structure, students need some practice – a short written exercise in class – to apply what has been studied. The last step should be guided homework, the objective being to review and practice at home the structure studied in class.

 At this point, students might  be encouraged to write a short composition 10-30 lines (depending on the class) on an important event that they will never forget, a short biography of a singer, actor, politician, athlete they admire or a summary of what they did in the summer vacations. Most of the verbs should be in the Past Simple. The composition – 2, 3 or 4 paragraphs – may be written in class as individual or group work or assigned as homework.

And that's all for today. We will deal with Interrogative and Negative forms and with other aspects of the Past Simple in my next post.

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