Past Continuous

The past continuous is a fairly easy tense for students to learn.  The most important thing to remember is that they use it correctly.

Remind students of how it is constructed – THE VERB TO BE IN THE PAST + ING.  This is a good time to revise the past tense of the verb to be.

This tense is used in the following cases:

  • Something which happened before and after another action.  E.g. The wind was howling and the rain was pouring down as we approached the house.  This is very common at the beginning of a story to set the atmosphere.

  • To express that an action was interrupted when another one happened.  E.g. I was having a shower when the phone rang.

  • To express that something happened before and after a particular time.  E.g. By the twenty-first century, everybody was using a mobile phone .

  • To express that something was happening again and again.  E.g. They were always quarreling.

  • To express change or growth.  E.g. The children were growing up so fast.

Here are some oral exercises to get your students practising the past continuous.

Dramatic Starts

  1. Tell the students you are going to give them ideas for situations.  E.g start a holiday, do an exam, play a football match.

  2. Divide students into groups.

  3. Students have to think up the most dramatic start to these situations.  E.g.  We were getting on the plane when another plane crashed into it.

  4. Set a time limit.  The group who come up with the most dramatic or unusual ideas can be rewarded with points or any other system you use.

Mulitiple Activities

This activity is good to get students asking Wh questions in the past continuous.

  1. Put list of actions on the board.  E.g. paint your nails, write in your notebook etc.

  2. Ask the students to do the actions in any order they want.

  3. Shout stop.

  4. Appoint a student to ask e.g. who was painting their nails or what was Juan doing, when was he painting his nails?

  5. Make sure students give full answers in order to practise the tense.  E.g. He was painting his nails when Pablo was writing in his notebook.

Crime Time!

Students love this activity as it gets their imagination going!

  1. Tell students to think of a crime that some of them are going to investigate.  If they can’t decide on one, help them make a decision.

  2. Divide the class into three – detectives, suspects, (more suspects than detectives) jury.

  3. Put the suspects into groups.

  4. Tell them they have to create a story of what they were doing at the time of the crime.  E.g. We were at a party and Pepe was talking to a girl.

  5. Send one or two detectives around the groups to question them.

  6. This can be done by appointing different detectives at different times to see if their alibis change.

  7. The jury must pay a lot of attention and decide who is guilty and why they don’t believe the alibis.