Teaching the Simple Past Tense and Its Irregular Verbs

Teaching the Simple Past Tense and Its Irregular Verbs

esl curriculumLets assume that the students are comfortable with the present tense. At this point they are ready to talk about what has happened in the past. Using and understanding the PAST TENSE can be made easier for the students if it is introduced in a step by step manner. This article suggests a step by step method for teaching the past tense.

How Can the Teaching of the Past Tense Be Divided into Readily Understood Steps?
Simple Present Tense


Roger and Helen enjoy a movie.

Roger and Helen watch a movie.

Roger and Helen want to go to a movie.

Simple Past Tense

Roger and Helen enjoyed a movie yesterday.

Roger and Helen watched a movie last night.

Roger and Helen wanted to go to a movie last Saturday.

Its Best to Start with the Most Regular Form the Ed Ending
Point out that the pronunciation of ed has three different sounds. Tell them they will learn the pronunciation as they speak and listen. To help the students learn these differences, give them lots of practice using the past tense of words that end in ed.

Provide this practice by having them participate in many oral activities. The easiest way to start is to introduce the past tense conjugation of to do and ask them questions that start with Did, using only verbs where the answers have  the past tense ending  ed. At this point have them answer yes to all questions.

Did you phone your friend last night? (yes)
Yes, I phoned my friend last night.
Did you live here last year? (yes)
Yes, I lived here last year.

Its Important that the Verbs Have Already Been Introduced in the Previous Lessons.
Now Its Necessary to Introduce Verbs that Are Irregular in the Past Tense.
There are two ways of dividing the presentation. Verbs such as: to go, to have, to see, can be introduced first. Although they are irregular they dont end in ed they use the same form throughout. At this point have them answer yes to all questions.
Did you see a movie last night? (yes)
Yes, I saw a movie last night.
Did you have some breakfast this morning? (yes)
Yes, I had some breakfast this morning.
Did you go to class yesterday? (yes)
Yes, I went to class yesterday.

Some teachers prefer to introduce to be by presenting the past tense conjugation  and asking questions such as:
Were you in town last night? (yes)
Yes, I was in town last night.
Were they playing basketball last year? (yes)
Yes, they were playing basketball last year.

Every teacher has his or her own way of presenting material. For the best results consider the above suggestions and adapt them to your way of teaching.

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