Past Tense Review Lesson – Running Dictation and Guided Discovery

I just did this lesson today with two groups of sophomore university students and it went rather well, so I’m going to share it with my readers. If you use it and find it helpful, please share the link around.

Last week I taught a quite boring lesson to review the present tenses, and I wanted something more kinaesthetic and communicative. I also wanted to incorporate the guided-discovery approach rather than just talking and testing.

I began the lesson with a running dictation, which I’d never done at my present job because the school is rather fusty and conservative. However, it went incredibly well. I wrote this reading passage and had the four sentences stuck up on walls around the school (within 100 meters of the classroom).
 I actually hadn’t underlined the verbs in the document when it was printed and cut up for the students. This was just for my reference, and to show them later.

I got the students in groups of five. One student would write and the other four would, one by one, run off and read the sentence, then try to remember it, and come back to tell “the writer.”

Here’s where the language point comes in… I would tell the students to put the story in order, and then when they’d done that, I’d ask what tense it is in… past, present, or future? They’d say, “past,” and I’d ask them to underline all the verbs.

At this point, they would start to realize some of the errors they’d made in the sentences because they’d recall the verb rules. Instead of essentially a game of Chinese whispers, it became a grammatical jigsaw puzzle.

I had a few students read their stories aloud and then gave the correct version to the class to compare.


After this I had them do a guided discovery exercise to have them establish exactly when to use the various past tenses. It seemed really difficult and took them a long time, but they figured it out, particularly after I put them in pairs and told them to check with their partner. Then I had them do two more tasks to test their understanding. Here’s the worksheet I made:

And here are the answers for you lazy teachers 😉

After this I had the students write stories from their childhood using a variety of past tenses, and other students were required to ask 3 questions about the story.

Head Teacher
I'm the founder and editor of Beatdom Literary Journal, author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. I'm also a teacher and operate the popular website, TED-IELTS.

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