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VESL Workshop: Simple Past Tense

  • VESL Workshop: Simple Past Tense

The following blog post was written by Nadia Khan, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement. Nadia recently planned and facilitated the VESL workshop Simple Past Tense.

Since 2005, VESL (the Volunteer ESL Tutor Training Project) has supported the professional development of volunteer ELL tutors throughout the city of Calgary. The project is funded by Calgary Learns and is the collaborative effort of three Calgary ELL service providers with long standing volunteer programs: Bow Valley College, the Calgary Public Library, and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. 

In this VESL workshop, participants learned about games and activities for tutoring the simple past tense. We first explored and reviewed the purpose, function, and use of the simple past tense in English. We also looked at regular and irregular verbs and discussed challenges faced by English language learners while using these, especially while making negative and interrogative sentences. The workshop participants were also introduced to spelling rules and pronunciation rules for –ed ending verbs. Participants played board games and participated in many hands-on activities around the use of the simple past tense that could be used for tutoring learners. Some of the activities that can be used are:

  • Charades: Give out verbs to learners and ask them to act. Other students guess the verb in the past tense.
  • Diary entry: Learners write about events that happened.
  • Picture sentences/picture stories: Learners guess what’s happening in the picture.
  • Use facts about a famous person from the past to practice yes/no questions.
  • Error correction
  • Writing about past events
  • Write the opposite of the verbs. Use irregular verbs: remembered-? floated-? opened-? buy-?
  • The matching game: Learners match the infinitive and the simple past verb cards.
  • Simple past tense bingo
  • Relay: Two teams compete by writing the simple past of the verb next to the base verb.
  • Walk with a verb: Learners walk around the room with verbs and fill in the gaps by posting the correct verbs in sentences with missing verbs.
  • Board games: The verbs are in the simple past and learners use common past time markers.
  • Scramble-unscramble: Learners unscramble scrambled spelling to spell the correct base form verb. Then, they provide the simple past form of the verb. e.g. emco- come-came.
  • Songs

Participants were also given tips and ideas to help learners practice the use of the not so simple simple past tense. Here are some tutoring strategies shared with the participants:

  • Reinforce past time markers.
  • Model the use of the simple past tense by sharing your past experiences preferably using time markers.
  • Use visuals and pictures to show actions.
  • Use the simple past tense to narrate stories about vacations or talk about news stories and events in history.

We also looked at ways of helping learners overcome some common errors that occur in the use of the simple past tense:

  • Use of auxiliary + base form of the verb: I was cook vegetables last night.
  • Use of auxiliary and main verb in the past tense in questions and negative statements: didn’t went, did you cooked?
  • Ending irregular verbs in –ed. Examples: cutted, knewed
  • Use of verb+ing only: I walking school yesterday.
  • Use of the infinitive/ base form only: I take the bus yesterday.

The VESL volunteers participated enthusiastically in all the games and activities. They were a wonderful resource too as they shared ideas and tutoring tips of what had worked for them.

Visit the VESL Network to learn more about the project and to download handouts from previous VESL workshops.



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Nice work, some good and useful ideas for language learners.

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