Past simple – speaking activities

Posted on Aug 23 2021 - 8:14am by Zdenda

When I was teaching my classes online, we couldn’t practice speaking. We had to use Google Meet and the interaction was pretty limited. Once we returned to our classes I flooded my students with speaking activities. In this post, I would like to share the ones that I used to practise the past simple tense.

Information Gap

Download the worksheet below. For this activity, each student needs one half of the following worksheet. Students work in pairs and one of them has worksheet A and the other one the worksheet B.

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Hand out the worksheets. Then elicit the language the students will need. It is a good idea to write the questions on the board. Remember to elicit the answers too. You want your students to answer in full sentences using the past simple tense.

Once you feel sure, that the students have the language to complete the task, let them work in pairs. They ask about the empty fields in their tables. Their task is to fill in the missing information.

In the middle of the activity, erase the board.

Mill Drill

Print the following worksheet and cut it into cards.

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Give each student a card and let them read it. If they do not understand it, explain the meaning.

Then the students go around the classroom and ask their classmates and answer their partners’ questions.

You can add a little tweak to this activity. Ask the students to exchange the questions once they answer it.

(The questions are printed in such a light colour to prevent students from reading the questions instead of listening to them.)

Who wrote the slip

This activity is very simple to set. You may just cut a lot of slips of paper and hand them to your students. The students write sentences in the past simple tense on the slips. Each sentence has to be different and they have to be in the past tense. Then they fold the slips and give them to you. Each student has to write at least three sentences, but of course they can write more.

Put the slips into a box or a hat and mix them. Students pick a slip and their task is to find the author of the sentence. When they find them, they keep the slip and take another one. They ask “DID YOU ….(and the information on the slip) ?”.

The game finishes once all the slips are gone from the box and the winner is the student who has the most slips.

If you do not want your students to write random sentences, you could use the following worksheet which contains the beginnings of sentences in the past simple tense.

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Cut the slips along the lines and hand them out. Students finish the sentences in such a way that they are true for them. Then they return the slips to you and the activity goes on as described above.

Anecdote – My Holiday

Anecdotes are speaking activities designed by Sue Kay and Vaughan Jones for their Inside Out series. These tasks help students speak for an extended time about a topic.

First, print the following worksheet for each student. There are two worksheets on the page.

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In the first exercise, students listen to the recording and circle the correct answers.

Check their and answers and then move to the second exercise. Students read the questions and they have to choose at least five of them which they will answer. This allows them to take control of the activity and also means that shyer students can avoid matters they feel are too personal.

Then give them planning time to think about both what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. Be on hand to help them. They should write their answers and they can use the model answers from activity 1. The planning stage need not take more than ten minutes, but students are more likely to be adventurous and use more complex language if they have had time to think about it.

Then the students work in pairs and tell their stories. At the beginning, they can read their stories but they MUST NOT read the lead questions. Once they tell their story, they change partners. They tell their stories again but this time they should consult their written notes as little as possible.

Then they swap partners again and they should tell their story without their notes.

Thus the students tell the same story three times. Each time they should be more fluent and correct.

It is a good idea to ask your students to learn their story by heart and then say it in front of the whole class.

Find someone who

Print the following worksheet for each student and hand them out. (One page contains two worksheets.)

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Students’ task is to find the people who did the things written in the worksheet.

First, elicit the questions the students are going to ask.

Then ask the students to walk around the class and find the people who did the things. Students should answer truthfully.

It is a good idea to limit the number of times one student is entered into the list. I usually say that they can have the same name only three items on their paper.

Two lines dialogues

It is another very simple activity. The teacher just prints the following worksheet once and cuts it into cards. Each student needs just one card.

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Students read their cards and their task is to say that they did the things written there. Check that they are able to do this correctly.

Next, give the students about two or three minutes to make up a reason WHY they did the thing on their card. Help them if they do not know the vocabulary. The reasons do not have to be intelligent but on the contrary. The more original your students are the funnier the activity will be.

Then the students walk around the classroom and tell their partners what they did. Their partner ask them WHY they did it? And they give their explanation. Thus, the dialogues should look something like this:

Student 1: I bought 10 cans of dog food?
Student 2: Why did you buy 10 cans of dog food?
S 1: Because my sister was hungry and I don’t t like her.
S 2: Oh, I see.

Monitor the language the students use and provide feedback.

Liar

This activity comes from the book The Art of Teaching Speaking by Keith S. Folse. However, the author admits that the original idea comes from a workshop he doesn’t remember.

Students work in groups of four. Each group needs the following worksheet. Cut it into cards and equip each group with a match, a sweet, a piece of paper and something to write or draw with.

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One student is turned with his back to the others three. One of the three turns one of the cards and acts out the given situation. Then all three students repeatedly deny and accuse the others of doing the activity. The guesser tries to guess who did the action. The dialogues should last about one minute and then the guesser must guess.

Here is an example. Students turn the card with BREAK THE MATCH. They leave the card on the desk and one of them does it. Once the action is finished, they call the guesser.
Guesser: I think that Mark broke the match.
Mark: No, I didn’t break the match. Jane broke the match.
Jane: I didn’t break the match. Anna broke the match.
Anna: I didn’t break the match. Mark broke it.
Guesser: Anna, help me. Who broke the match?
Anna: I don’t know. But I think that Jane broke it.
One minute is up. The teacher calls out and the guesser has to guess:
Guesser: I think that Anna broke the match.

This activity is very lively and students really enjoy it.

If you teach a weaker group of students it is a good idea to drill the dialogue first.

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