21 Fun Present Perfect and Past Simple Practice Activities

By Alex Case
Stimulating controlled practice activities to help students compare and contrast Past Simple and has/ have + PP, including many Present Perfect and Past Simple speaking games

Although we often teach Present Perfect on its own, in real life its use is often mixed up with Past Simple in conversations like “Have you ever…?” “Yes, I have. Four years ago, I went…” As well as being more realistic communication, speaking activities and games with both tenses also help students contrast the two forms. This article gives 21 stimulating examples of practice activities with a combination of Present Perfect and Past Simple.

Present Perfect and Past Simple you must say yes

Students ask each other Present Perfect questions like “Have you ever…?”, to which their partner must always reply “Yes, I have”. They then ask three follow up questions, which should naturally include lots of Past Simple questions like “When did you do it?” and “How did you feel about it?” They should then be ready to guess if the initial “Yes, I have” was true or not.

This can also work with other Present Perfect yes/ no questions like “Have you… this…?” or “Have you… recently?”

Present Perfect and Past Simple time expression activities

Make a worksheet or, preferably, pack of cards which has a mix of times which always go with Present Perfect like “since January” and times which go with Past Simple like “three days ago”, plus maybe a few that can go with both like “for two weeks”. There are lots of activities that you can do with such expressions, some of which follow.

Times with Present Perfect and Past Simple pelmanism and snap

Students try to find two times which both take Present Perfect or both take Past Simple. For pelmanism, they spread the cards across the table and take turns taking two and hoping they take the same tense. This is usually done with the cards face down, but can also work with the cards face up if the class are new to the language. To save cutting up, it can also be done by crossing time expressions off a mixed-up list.

You’ll definitely need cards for snap, which is a much faster game where students deal out the cards but don’t look at them, take turns turning one from their pack over, and race to shout out “Snap” if the last two cards take the same tense.

To add speaking, you could allow students to challenge each other if they think the match is wrong, in which case the person who matched them should try to make example sentences.

Times with Present Perfect and Past Simple speaking games

For oral practice, students could use the same time cards or worksheet by:

  • making questions out of the times that they pick (“Did you understand the lesson well last week?”, “Have you just done your homework?”, perhaps with points for “Yes” answers)
  • trying to find things in common with each time expression (“We have both had more fun this year than we did last year”)
  • playing a bluffing game such as making a mixture of true and false sentences with the time expressions.

Past Simple and past participle practice activities

If you make a worksheet or pack of cards with a mix of Past Simple forms (“woke up”), past participles that you would use in Present Perfect (“been to”), and maybe some which are both (“walked”), most of the activities above with time expressions are also possible with the verbs. For example, they could:

  • play Past Simple or past participle pelmanism and/ or snap
  • make questions with those forms
  • find things in common using those forms
  • play lying games.

Present Perfect and Past Simple dice games

A dice could decide:

  • what kind of Present Perfect question they should ask first (“1 = ever, 2 = this…”, etc, with the follow-up questions naturally being mainly in Past Simple)
  • what kind of past time they should ask about (“1 = whole life/ experience, 2 = unfinished time, 3 = recent time, 4 = not recent time, 5 = childhood, 6 = free choice”)
  • what kind of true or false sentence they should make (“1 = true Present Perfect sentence, 2 = false Present Perfect sentence, 3 = true Past Simple sentence”, etc, with the dice being rolled secretly)
  • what kind of roleplay they take part in.

Present Perfect and Past Simple roleplays

Situations which are likely to bring up lots of Present Perfect and Past Simple include:

  • meeting someone again after a long time, e.g. at a class reunion
  • job interviews
  • celebrities being interviewed about their careers, e.g. on This is Your Life
  • ghost writers or journalists trying to find out the most interesting experiences that their subjects have had

Present Perfect and Past Simple small talk

Give students typical small talk questions in each tense like “How has your week been?”, “Have you been busy recently?” and “How was your weekend?” to ask each other. They can then try to remember the tenses of the questions and/ or put the right tenses into sample answers.

Good and bad Present Perfect and Past Simple questions

This is like the activity above, but with the added challenge of avoiding questions which we might find in textbooks but are strange in real life like “What did you have for breakfast today?” and “Have you put on weight?”

Present Perfect and Past Simple answer me

Make a worksheet or pack of cards with short answers to Yes/ No questions in these two tenses such as “Yes, she has”, “No, we didn’t” and “Yes, I was”. Students get one point each time they can get a different one of those answers from their partner(s).

Typical Present Perfect and Past Simple phrases conversation building

Give students typical examples of each tense like “No, I never have, but I’d like to” and “Have you heard the news?” and get students to drop them into conversations, perhaps after planning what kind of conversations they will need to be.

Present Perfect and Past Simple trivia quizzes

After answering questions like “How many constitutions has France had?” and “Where did Napoleon die?”, students make up similar questions with a mix of the two tenses to test each other with. To help with this, they will probably need tips like “mix up questions about living and dead people” and/ or suggested questions stems like “How many times has…?” and “When did…?”

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet October 2022
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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