Fun Practice Activities for There Is, Are, Was, Were

By Alex Case
1. The worst school in the world Students compare their primary schools, with the aim of showing that their school was worse than their partners’, leading to sentences like “There was a swimming pool, but there was only cold water in it” 2. Home improvements Students are given a picture of a house and discuss […]

1. The worst school in the world
Students compare their primary schools, with the aim of showing that their school was worse than their partners’, leading to sentences like “There was a swimming pool, but there was only cold water in it”

2. Home improvements
Students are given a picture of a house and discuss in pairs or groups 10 changes they would make to it. They then describe how the house is now and was before to other groups, and each group chooses their favourite from other people’s houses.

3. Win win home improvements
Students are given different pictures of houses and have to agree to swap 5 things without showing their pictures to each other. They then describe their houses before and after to the class, and people vote on the most improved houses.

4. Memories of class
Students shut their eyes and test each other on the contents of the classroom, e.g. “How many tables are there?” or “There is a blue clock on the wall. True or false?” This is good for typical classroom vocabulary of things they will see every week and that often come up in classroom instructions.

5. Kim’s memory
A similar game to Memories of Class above can be played with a collection of objects that a cloth or piece of paper is put over, with students testing each other on what is under the covering. The students can then do the same thing in groups with objects on their table. This is also good for classroom language like the names of stationery, or you can bring or ask them to bring things connected to their work such as tools into class. You could ask them to give their sentences in the past tense (as they are talking about what they could see before it was covered), or just leave that grammar for the activity below.

6. Kim’s game
When you have got students used to remembering what is hidden under a cloth or piece of paper, change some of the contents by putting your hands under the cover and adding things and taking things away, and then reveal the changed collection of objects. Students then try to describe the changes with language like “(Before) there was a rubber band, but now there are some rubber bands” and “There are some paperclips, but before there weren’t any.”

7. It’s all changes
Another game that can be played by changing things is to make one or more students step out of the class and then change the things in the classroom, e.g. drawing or erasing things on the whiteboard and taking stuff out of and putting stuff in classroom drawers and bags. This can also be played with all students closing their eyes while the changes are made.

8. Tidying up
You can also do a pairwork picture difference (information gap) activity on the subject of changes. Quite a few textbooks and books of photocopiable activities have pictures of rooms before and after they have been tidied up. Although these are designed for practice of the Present Perfect, they can usually easily be used with the language that is being practised here. If you do not have access to suitable drawings, you can do the same thing with two photos of a real room such as the classroom. If you connect your digital camera directly to your computer, with kids’ classes you could take a photo of the room before you ask them to clear it up (or conversely before craftwork starts) and then show it later for them to compare it to the present state of the room.

9. There used to be
Another common activity from textbooks and photocopiable supplementary books that can be used with this grammar is pictures of shopping streets and other views in the past and present, usually designed for practice of “used to” but easily adapted for “there was/ were”. One student is told that the street that they have a picture of is what there was/ were in the past and the other student is told that they have what there is/ are in that same street now. They then try to find the differences without looking at each others’ pictures. Similar things can be done by getting students to look at a drawing or photo of a past or present scene and to guess what changed, before being shown the other picture of the same scene. Suitable pictures for this can usually be found in local history books, which also makes the topic more interesting to students.

10. How many Wallys? (How many Waldos?)
Show or give students a very detailed picture that has a few examples of some things but only one example of others, e.g. a zoo with many flamingos etc but only one elephant. Ask them a question on how many of one type of thing are there, and give points for the first correct answer. Also include questions on things that aren’t there to produce sentences like “There aren’t any zebras”. You can then play a memory game with the same picture to practice the past forms.

11. Freeze and count
The same game as How many Wallys? above can be played by freezing a video and quickly making the screen blank. The students are then tested by the teacher or each other on what was on the screen at that point.

12. Add up the videos
When the teacher pauses the video, rather than add up what is on the screen students have to say how many there were up to that point, e.g. how many people entered the phone box or how many punches someone received. Note that you will need to make sure that the sequence of actions is finished, because otherwise “There has/ have been… (so far)” is the more natural form.

13. One word dictation
Students listen to a song or other recording just for one word or kind of word (e.g. names of animals) and report back on how many they heard using “There…”.

14. There were no end of problems
Students take turns telling a story, with one person creating problems for the main characters with sentences like “Suddenly, there was a really strong gust of wind that blew the roses away”, and the other person solving them.

15. Not the holiday I pictured
One person is a tourist presently on holiday and the other person is their travel agent. The tourist has to complain about how everything is different from how they were told it would be (e.g. “You said that there was a pool, but there is only a pond”), and the travel agent has to find excuses for each thing and so politely refuse to give a refund.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet March 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet


  • hulya says:


  • Valerie says:

    Great games. I will use them! Thanks.

  • kristina says:

    thank you very much your useful ideas.

  • Marce says:

    excellent ideas an activities. they worked perfectly in my esl class of teens and children. thanks for sharing this type of material

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