Past Continuous activities
Amusing ways of giving students intensive practice of the Past Progressive tense
1. Past Continuous Accusations
This is not only a classic activity for the Past Continuous, but also an all time classic TEFL game. Students are given a list of strange actions and ask their partners to come up with innocent reasons why they were doing those things, e.g. “When I saw you, you were painting over your windows. Why were you doing that?” “I was turning my whole house into a big flag to celebrate Independence Day”. It is important that they say the “When I saw you…” part each time, to make the use of the Past Continuous realistic.
2. Past Continuous Alibi Game
This is another all time classic TEFL game. Students are divided into suspects and alibis and they have to concoct a story of where they were together at the time of the crime. They are then questioned separately, and too many differences between their stories mean that the suspect is guilty. You can make this more specific to Past Continuous by only allowing the detectives to ask questions about the time of the murder, e.g. “What were you talking about?” and “Where was the waitress standing?”
3. Past Continuous Mimes
Students mime an action and when their partner is sure what it is they shout “Stop!” They then guess the action with the sentence “When I shouted stop, you were + ing…”, e.g. “When I shouted stop, you were polishing your fingernails on your shirt to show how proud you are”. It is important to use the “When I shouted stop” part of the sentence each time to make this the right tense, as otherwise “You polished your fingernails…” is more natural.
4. Random pelmanism
Students take two cards at random and try to make a sentence including those words or expressions with the Past Simple and Past Continuous. For example, if they pick the words “alligator” and “wallpaper”, they could say “When I was covering my son’s bedroom with teddy bear wallpaper, he suddenly came in and said he wanted alligator patterns instead”.
5. Past Continuous Things in common
Students try to find times when they were doing the exact same thing, e.g. “What were you doing at 7 o’clock this morning?” “I was taking a shower” “So was I!” They can’t use the same action more than once, e.g. only one sentence about sleeping!
6. All kinds of actions
Put a list of actions on the board, e.g. “tapping your fingers” and “yawning”. Ask students to do any of the actions in any order they like and at some point shout “Stop!” The students then test each other on what their classmates were doing at the time the teacher shouted stop with questions like “Who was polishing her fingernails?” and “What was Juan doing?”
7. Past Continuous picture memory
Give students a picture that shows lots of people doing different actions, e.g. a page from Where’s Wally? (=Where’s Waldo?) When they turn over the picture so that they can’t see it, test them on what people were doing with questions like “What was the old lady doing?”, “How many people were smoking?” and “Who was standing next to the counter?” You can make the use of the Past Continuous more natural by using a picture with a clock in or by making it a situation that people might really be asked these questions about, e.g. the moment before a bank robbery.
8. Past Continuous memory challenge
Students try to ask each other “What were you doing when you first/ last…?” questions that their partners can’t remember the answer to, e.g. “What were you doing when you first tasted wine?” or “What were you doing when you last saw a double-decker bus?” You can also make this into a bluff game by asking students who don’t remember to make something up, e.g. “I was cleaning up after my parents’ birthday party” or “I was flying low over London”. Their partners then guess whether the answer is true or not.
9. Past photos
Students pretend that a blank piece of paper is an important photo of theirs and describe it to their partners. As it is just as natural to use the Present Continuous to describe the actual actions in the picture, they should also describe what they were doing when the photo was taken (e.g. having their honeymoon), what people in the photo were doing at that time (e.g. studying at university), what was happening outside the frame of the photo, etc.
10. Continual nagging
Students take turns complaining that they did all the work to prepare for something like a party or presentation, e.g. “While I was making the sandwiches you answered your mobile three or four times” or “While I was cleaning the tables you were staring at pretty women out of the window”. The other person should also say they their action was more useful than it seemed, e.g. “Actually, I was waiting for the delivery van to arrive so that I could bring the paper plates upstairs”, or retaliate with a worse accusation like “While I was typing up the Powerpoint document, you were playing poker on your computer”.
11. Who was doing that?
Students make true sentences about what someone was doing when they saw that person, and the other students guess who it was, e.g. “He was pulling across two lanes of traffic” for a taxi driver or “She was writing something down in a notebook” for a traffic warden.
12. Video task 1 – When the screen went blank
While students are watching a video, the teacher suddenly presses the stop button. Students have to describe what was happening in as much detail as they can, and then check when the teacher presses play.
13. Video task 2 – Detailed viewing
When students have finished watching a short clip, test them on things that were happening in the background, e.g. “What was the window cleaner doing when the hero was taking out his walkie talkie?”
14. Video task 3 – Complicated cutting
Every time a character reappears on the screen, pause the video and test students on what that person was doing last time we saw them.
I really liked your ideas .. thank you for sharing your ideas . l now have something to teach and the students will Like this .
thank you! great ideas here!
Katherine Calderón says:
I thought I wasn’t going to find good activities with these tenses (Simple past vs. Past continuous) but I was wrong. I loved the suggestions given in this page. Keep up the good work!!
Awesome! This was exactly what I was looking for! thanks a lot!
This is fabulous! I needed something to wake up my students while doing verb tenses!
Can’t wait to try them out. Thanks so much
This is brilliant!
Will do these with my 5th grade student.
What I love most is that your activities provide an opportunity to contrast Past Simple and Past Continuous.
ellie louis says:
Love it. Straight forward, fun activities. So helpful.I got my Richard Scarry’s book out for the actions one.
Thanks a lot, Alex!
I particularly liked Things in Common.
Have a great day!
it was so helpful thanks
This is soooooo helpful! I am a teacher in Germany for year 6 and want my students to have fun learning English. Thanks a lot!