15 Fun Ways of Practising the Past Perfect

By Alex Case
Games and activities to practise the Past Perfect tense

1. Fairytale dominoes
This is a game from Intermediate Communication Games that can easily be played without access to the book. Students continue a story by choosing from pictures that they have spread out on the table in front of them, continuing until they bring the story to a conclusion with the very last picture. To make the use of Past Perfect higher, allow them to add pictures to earlier in the story with phrases like “By the time he arrived back at the castle, the witch had already kidnapped the princess”. You can play the same game with other kinds of story such as murders and spy stories (crime vocabulary), science fiction or love stories. If you can’t find suitable pictures, students can play the same game with relevant words on cut up pieces of paper.

2. Alibi game
Half the class are suspects for the murder of someone in the school, and the other half are their alibis. In pairs, they have to create the stories of what they were doing elsewhere at the time of the murder. They are then questioned separately, and the pair with the most differences between their stories are the guilty ones. This is one of the all time classic TEFL games and gets students who are usually shy or uninvolved speaking much more than usual.

3. Business English alibi game
With some careful preparation, the concept of the alibi game can be extended into other fields such as Business English. Prepare slips of paper with typical business daily tasks such as “send a fax”. Students set them out to make an imaginary business day and then try to memorize their own day. Another student then tests them on the order of the events with questions like “Had you already finished lunch when you started gossiping?” or “How many things had you achieved before the meeting with your boss started?” You can also add the Past Continuous by allowing them to place some of the slips of paper vertically to represent things that lasted a longer time during which other things happened (slips of paper placed next to them horizontally).

4. Past Perfect Kim’s Game
Another game that can be played with the same pieces of paper as the Business English Alibi game above is for one student to move around the pieces of paper showing the sequence of events in the day and for the other person to spot and explain the changes, e.g. “Now it says I had already polished my shoes when I put them on, but actually I put my shoes on and then polished them”.

5. Guess what order
A personalized version of the Business English Alibi Game above is for students to guess the order of their partner’s actions yesterday or at the weekend. One student says two things they did and their partner has to make a true sentence, keeping the same order in the sentence as they were said in, e.g. “When you had a shower, you had already finished breakfast” or “You had a shower and then you had breakfast”. This activity can also be used to contrast the Past Perfect and Past Continuous.

6. Guess the sequence
An longer version of Guess The Order above that has more vocabulary in it is for students to show their partner a mixed up list of 10 things they did yesterday or at the weekend and for their partner to put them in order using questions like “Had you already left the office when you phoned your wife?”

7. Yesterday’s schedule spot the differences
Give them schedules with differences of order of the events to ask and answer questions about such as “How many times had you studied maths by the end of school on Thursday?”

8. Texts spot the difference
This is similar to Yesterday’s Schedule Spot the Difference, but involves reading and therefore maybe more useful language input. Give them two texts that have the same events in a different order, e.g. texts of what people said during alibi interrogation. This can be used as the lead in to the Alibi Game above.

9. Guess what happened next
A student says the Past Perfect part of a true sentence about themselves and their partner tries to guess the true Simple Past part, e.g. “I had been sacked” “You had been sacked from your previous job when you entered this company?” “Wrong! That was from the job before last”

10. Sentence completion guessing game
Give students ten to twenty sentence stems that you know that most people can complete almost all of in some way, e.g. “When I joined this class…” or “I had never felt more excited before in my life when…” Tell them to complete at least half the sentences. They then read out only the part they have written and their partners guess which sentence it is a completion of, e.g. “I had already worked in twenty three places” “When you started in your present company?” “No. Try again.” “By the time you started university?” “That’s right!” “Wow! How come?”

11. Your partner’s day backwards (the Memento game)
Starting when their partner went to bed, students see how many true sentences they can make about things they did before that, working backwards slowly, e.g. “When you went to bed, you had already brushed your teeth” “That’s right” “When you brushed your teeth, you had already had a shower” “Wrong! I had a shower after I cleaned my teeth. My turn.”

12. Who had been busier competition
Choose a time of day yesterday and students try to prove they had been busier or more productive up to then than their partner, e.g. “By 6 pm yesterday, I had typed 20 A4 pages” “That’s nothing. By 6pm yesterday I had made 20 phone calls” “Really? I still think typing is more difficult though…”

13. Past participle pron SNAP/ pellmanism
Doing the Past Perfect is a good opportunity to spend some time on the pronunciation of the Past Participle. One way of improving their pronunciation while actually making the process seem simpler rather than more complicated is get them to match up past participles like “bought” and “caught” by their vowel sound (students often overcomplicate things by trying to make sounds that don’t exist in English to show distinctions in spelling when in fact the pronunciation is exactly the same). This will also help them learn the forms so that they can produce them automatically and so can concentrate on using Past Perfect in the right situations.

14. Vowel sound brainstorm
Another way of practicing the vowel sounds of the Past Participle is to get students to race to write as many as they can with a particular vowel sound within the (2 to 5 minute) time limit. After going through their answers, you can get them to repeat the process, but this time writing sentences with those past participles out in full.

15. I’ve been had!
Another difficulty associated with the pronunciation of the Past Perfect is using “’d” (because using the whole word “had” can seem too emphatic, as if you are contradicting someone) and spotting the difference between “’d” = had and “’d” = would in context. Students listen to sentences including “had” (because it is a short answer or a contradiction), “’d = would” or “’d = had” and only react when they hear the third of those forms, for example by racing to put their hands up as quickly as possible or slapping their card on their table before their partner does.

Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET December 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Tefl.NET


  • Uma says:

    Wow , I have found interesting and innovative activities .Thank you so much

  • Sorgina says:

    Fantastic creative ideas and superbly helpful! Thank you.

  • Dr. Acula says:

    Great idea for some interesting ways of teaching this extremely useful grammar point while making it worthwhile both for students and teachers, too.

  • Suman says:

    Wow….these ideas are so fruitful

  • Alex Case says:

    Past perfect games/ worksheets:

  • Alex Case says:

    The worksheets I mentioned in an old comment are now here: https://tefltastic.wordpress.com/worksheets/grammar/past-tenses/past-perfect/

  • shanmugapriya says:

    it is usefull for the students to learn past perfect tense

  • Asmaa says:

    Thanks for these great activities
    its really hard to explain grammar for students

  • Mark says:

    Thanks for these, very helpful to someone planning at short notice! Another useful one to combine with listening is to pick out a song that uses the Past Perfect and get Ss to identify any lyrics which use the tense, writing it down and repeating after playing the song. Cheers!

  • Andres says:

    Great activities, a good way to teach a subject that would otherwise be boring for some students. Thanks!

  • Zoya says:

    Thanks a lot. Very useful games. Mu pupils were happy to try some of them. And the main thing is, that they work!!!

  • Mirtha De Avila says:

    Thank you so much! It’s not easy to find fun ways to teach this grammar point.

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