Using Short Paragraph Stories to Teach the Past Simple in English – Part 1

Whenever I have to teach the simple past tense in English, one activity I always use is the practice of speaking and writing using some short “stories” that I made up. Writing them was much more difficult than I had originally imagined, as using only regular verbs in a narrative is not really authentic language. Native speakers just don’t speak that way. But, to give my EFL English learners some practice writing the forms of regular verbs in the past and especially their pronunciation, I came up with some short clips using just this form. They are more difficult to read and pronounce than “normal”, but intensive practice seems to be very helpful. So I continue to use them even though I know this speech pattern will not occur in natural English speech.

Since all my students are from a Spanish-speaking country in South America, Colombia, they usually have a problem pronouncing the -ed verb that ends in its various forms. I had noticed the same propensity for pronunciation problems with regular verb endings -ed in other Spanish-speaking areas, so I prepared exercises to help with this from the beginning. Students in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama, and Ecuador have benefited from these simple “stories.” I hope maybe your EFL / ESL students will too.

TEFL students can read the paragraphs of the story aloud, focusing on the correct pronunciation of the final forms of the verbs. They can fill in the blank endings in the paragraph to practice adding -ed or just -d as needed. They will also practice when to change “y” to “i” before adding -ed. For example, the game becomes a game and the stay stops, but the attempt and the crying becomes tried or cried. Stories can be cut into strips and rearranged, performed as a “play,” pantomime, or a variety of written exercises and comprehension activities can be added. As an added feature, I bold verbs in paragraphs.

I tried to create short paragraph stories that were also of some interest. One is set in the Old West and is called “The Calico County Sheriff.” The others take place during a visit to the zoo and during a bank robbery, respectively. They are titled “The Zoo” (169 words) and “The State Bank” (131 words). Titles a bit catchy, huh? It only took a little “writing license” in creating these short paragraph stories. Hey, it worked for Shakespeare, right?

Here are two examples for you to try.

The zoo

Last Wednesday we decided to visit the zoo. We arrived the next morning after breakfast, exchanged our passes and entered. We walked towards the first exhibits. I looked at a giraffe staring back at me. I nervously walked to the next area. One of the lions looked at me as I lounged in the shade while the others napped. One of my friends called first and then hit the tempered glass in front of the monkey cage. They howled and yelled at us as we hurried to another exhibit where we stopped and gawked at the feathered birds. After resting, we made our way to the petting zoo where we pet the woolly sheep that were only looking at us, but the goats were bumping each other and chewing on our clothes when we ventured too close to their closed pen. Later, our tired group made their way through the crowded roads and out the gate with turnstiles. Our car crashed, shook and rocked in our sleep during the relaxed drive home.

The State Bank

This morning at 8:33 a.m., someone robbed the State Bank downtown. The thief walked into the bank and said he wanted all your money. The thief smiled but looked very tired. The tellers looked concerned. The thief received the money he requested, asked to be excused, and then stormed out when the door swung around. He ran down the street and screamed away in a broken-down car that rattled, screeched, and smoked. It seemed like he really needed the money. Soon the police arrived. They rushed and chased down the street. Passersby were searched and questioned, but the thief disappeared. The police could not catch him. Investigators dropped the case and did nothing else. The money was never recovered and the thief was never identified at the end of the incident report.

In the second part of this series of articles, I demonstrate the use of a similar style, but a much longer piece to practice the past simple of regular verbs. If you’re successful and want to try another one of my “stories” or two, email me for more. Better yet, try making up a couple of your own. Either way, I’m happy to be able to share them with you and will be happy to hear how they worked for you and your EFL / ESL English learners. So, feel free to let me know how well they worked (or didn’t) for you.

Good luck

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