Teaching ideas for past perfect continuous

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Teaching ideas for past perfect continuous
Past perfect continuous tense describes two actions that happened in the past. (a matter of time image by Alexandr Inkov from Fotolia.com)

In English, the past perfect continuous (or past perfect progressive) tense is used to describe an action that happened in the past and lasted up until another action in the past. Students may struggle to distinguish between tenses such as the past perfect, past perfect continuous or present perfect. Try to explain the concept of the past perfect continuous tense by giving the students visual examples or incorporating the lesson in a game.

Time Lines

Draw a time line to visually explain the past perfect continuous. Write two events on the time line, and end the time line with "now." Draw a line between the two events to show how the one action continued until the second action happened. Present an example sentence of how both events are described in the past perfect continuous tense. For example: "Ann had an accident because she had been driving for 12 hours straight." Indicate "driving 12 hours" and "accident" on the time line.

Draw a second time line to explain the difference between the different tenses.

"Freeze" Game

Explain the concept to your students by making them play the "freeze" game. Divide your class into two teams. Have the first team sit together while the second team stands in a group. Order the first team to close their eyes. Show the second team an action verb like "playing hockey." The second team now has to quietly act out this verb until you say "freeze." They have to literally freeze in their current action. Team 1 now has to guess what Team 2 had been doing before they opened their eyes. Have them start each guess with "Before I opened my eyes..." Give both teams an opportunity to act and to guess, and award points for each successful guess, provided that the correct tense was used.


Tell the students to interview each other. The interviewer must select an event that happened in the past, and ask about any ongoing activities that happened before that event. For instance, "where had you been living before you moved to this town?" or "how long had you been waiting to get on this morning's bus?" or "Had you been dating anyone when you were in primary school?" The person being interviewed also has to answer each question in the past perfect continuous tense.

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