You form the past continuous tense by using "was" or "were" and adding a second verb ending in "ing." The sentence "I was walking" is an example of this tense. It discusses an unfinished action in progress around a point in the past. Students might understand this tense, but they may not be able to use it right away. Activities which target the usage of the past continuous can help students to use this tense correctly and immediately.
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This exercise allows students to be creative and shows them how people often use the past continuous tense with the past simple. Hand out copies of excerpts from scary stories and ask ESL students to underline where they see the past simple and the past continuous. Common examples are "It was a dark and stormy night. The wind was howling. It was raining." Put students into pairs and ask them to come up with their own scary stories, using both the past simple and past continuous tense. Have each pair read their stories to the class when finished and the class can vote on their favourite one.
Tell students that the night before at 10 p.m., someone stole the car of the school principal and that unfortunately the principal suspects the students in your class. Give each student an alibi written on a note card. The alibi will explain what each student was doing at 10 p.m. the night before. For example, one note card might say: "I was baking a cake" or "I was dancing at a night club." Ask students to get up and walk around the room, asking each other "What were you doing last night at 10 p.m?" Students should answer with their separate alibis in the past continuous. Once each student has had a chance to talk to everyone, the class should vote on whose alibi is the weakest.
Draw the class a picture of your fictional ex-spouse. Tell them that you no longer like this person anymore because he had many annoying habits. Explain the annoying habits that this fictional person had by using the past continuous and the adverb "always." For example, you could say: "He was always cutting his nails in bed" or "he was always leaving towels on the floor." Put students into pairs and tell them to draw fictional ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. Once they draw their pictures have each of them tell their partners about this person's annoying habits.
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