Voices

Classroom activities to teach narrative tenses

By Mike Astbury

12 May 2017 - 17:50

Are you looking for new grammar games for the classroom? Multiple winner of the TeachingEnglish blog award Mike Astbury shares some resources to download, print, and use in your class.

What are narrative tenses?

Narrative tenses are verb tenses that are used to talk about the past. You can often find them in stories, textbooks, spoken accounts and in descriptions of past events.

The following are examples of narrative tenses:

Past simple: 'We left for the airport on an exceptionally sunny day.'

Past continuous: 'The sun was shining and it was really hot by midday.'

Past perfect: 'It had been sunny on and off for the previous fortnight.'

Past perfect continuous: 'We had been waiting at the airport for what seemed like an eternity.'

Activities to practise narrative tenses 

The following games are designed to help students practise narrative tenses and don’t require teacher supervision. They need at least two players.

The games use 16 cards, which tell a short story when combined together. Each card has an example of a sentence using narrative tenses. Each sentence tells part of the story.

You can download a PDF template of all the cards, game boards and blank templates needed for all the games, and print them. Or, if you would prefer to make your own, write the following 16 sentences on 16 separate cards (one card per sentence).

  1. It was raining outside when Sam got out of bed and looked out of the window.
  2. He picked up his phone and sent a text to his friend James: 'No football today. How about going to the cinema?'
  3. While he was waiting for a reply, Sam brushed his teeth, had a shower and got dressed.
  4. After he finished getting ready, he checked his phone and saw that James had replied.
  5. James said he wanted to play football anyway and he didn't care about the rain.
  6. Sam changed his mind and decided he wanted to play too, and left the house to join James in the park.
  7. While he was walking to the park, James met two of his other friends and invited them along.
  8. When they all arrived, they saw that James had found some other kids to play with, and they had enough people for a full match.
  9. While they were playing football, it stopped raining anyway and Sam was really happy he hadn't gone to the cinema.
  10. After the game, Sam went home. On the way, he stopped at a shop to buy something for his lunch.
  11. He was about to pay when he realised he had forgotten to take his wallet when he had left the house.
  12. He apologised and left the shop. Sam felt hungry but he knew that he had plenty of food at home.
  13. He was walking home, thinking about the goals he had scored that day, when he saw his mum drive past.
  14. She saw him and stopped the car to give him a ride home. She had been working all morning, but she was in a good mood.
  15. Sam sat back in his seat and looked forward to having his lunch. He was having a great day.
  16. When they arrived, Sam cooked lunch for the whole family.

A. Warm-up activity

The aim of the first activity is to become familiar with the story of Sam and James playing a game of football. This story is used in different ways for all of the games.

  1. Print a copy of the first page of cards from the PDF template.
  2. Cut up the cards.
  3. Shuffle the cards.
  4. Work together with another student to put the story in the right order.
  5. Check your answer (the correct order is on page two of the template).Then, flip all of the cards face-down and try to retell the story in your own words.

B. Quiz

The next activity is done in pairs to test your understanding of narrative tenses. You need at least two players.

Print one copy each of page two and three of the PDF template for this exercise.

These are card templates. Each card has one of the 16 sentences above, but the narrative tense is missing on the question side.

For example, 'While they... (play) football, it stopped raining and Sam was really happy he hadn't gone to the cinema.'

The missing narrative tense of the verb in this instance is 'were playing'.

  1. Cut up the cards, but don’t cut along the dotted lines. These are fold lines to make the cards double-sided. I glue them together with card to make them more durable.
  2. Take turns to draw a card and hold it, so that the answer side is facing you and the question side is facing the other player.
  3. If the player is able to read the sentence with the correct form of the verb, they win the card and keep it to represent their score. If you make a mistake, the card goes to the bottom of the pile of cards.
  4. Continue until you’ve used all of the cards. Whoever has the most cards wins.

C. Connect Three

This game is for two players. Use the same cards as before, and also print the game board on page five of the template.

  1. Using the same cards as the quiz (pages two and three of the PDF template), take turns to draw a card. Only look at the question side.
  2. Try to read the sentence aloud, including the correct form of the verb.
  3. Check the other side of the card, which has the correct sentence. If you were correct, choose a square and mark it as yours (using a pencil or counter).
  4. The first player to connect three squares in a line is the winner.

D. Narrative tense 'blockbusters'

This game is adapted from the UK television game show Blockbusters. It is played with two players: one player tries to connect four cards horizontally, and the other player vertically. This activity also uses the game board on page five.

  1. Place all of the cards on the board in a random order, with the question side facing up.
  2. Take it in turns to read a sentence aloud with the correct form of the verb.
  3. Check the other side of the card. If you are correct, mark the square below as yours (using a pencil or counters) and remove the card from the board.
  4. If you are wrong, put the card back.
  5. The first player to connect along their axis wins. Connections can also be diagonal.

Making your own version

Now that you’ve practised narrative tenses, you should be ready to write your own story. You could use the blank template on page six of the PDF template to make your own version of the game cards.

You can prepare them in PowerPoint or just print the templates and write on them directly.

Game cards are reusable

The cards can be time-consuming to make initially, but once you have a set of cards, they can be adapted and reused with counters and pencils again and again. You could try making card sets with your students, which may be a more motivating reason for students to write a story, as it will be used by other students.

Visit Mike's blog, Teaching Games, for more great ideas.

Find out how you can take part of the TeachingEnglish blog award, and visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities.

You might also be interested in