Fantastical Stories: Past Tense Fun

Past Tense Story Cards I had an interesting revelation the other day in class. We’ve been reviewing the past tense in my class. I gave my students a handout on it, and we’ve done several writing activities with it. They’re doing a good job. They can check what they write and correct the verbs if they made any mistakes. They understand it. However, when one of my students was telling about something that had happened to her, all of her verbs were in present tense. So I asked myself, “How can grammatical knowledge be transferred to oral fluency?” I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but in response to this question, I came up with this activity. It got them practicing the past tense orally, and we all had a lot of fun. What more can you ask for? 

The purpose of this activity is to get students to tell a story using past tense verbs. The cards assist them in remembering to use the past form. The cards also add a silly element to the activity which is fun, so it helps to lighten the mood a bit. Students use the cards to help shape their story, but they’re not at all limited to the cards they have.

What I noticed when I did this activity is that the higher-level students embellished their stories more while the lower-level students stuck mostly to using the cards. Therefore, the cards worked well as a starting place for stronger students and also helped lower-level students participate in the activity. I will definitely play it again. I’d love to add pictures to the cards and make them more exciting, but alas, it’s the middle of a busy semester, so colored paper works for now.

>click here to access the Google Doc<<

  1. Print the cards and then copy them onto three different colors of cardstock as follows:
    1. Pages 1-5 (past tense verbs)
    2. Pages 6-8 (characters and objects)
    3. Page 9 (a time reference for the story)
  2. Tell the students that they’re going to practice remembering to use past tense verbs while speaking. Tell them the idea is to tell the silliest and most fantastical story they can.
  3. Give each student 1 time card, 4-5 verb cards, and 3-4 character cards. (these ratios seemed to work well in my class, but of course, they can be modified).
  4. Give students a couple minutes to look over their cards and look up any words they don’t know.
  5. Then, have students tell their stories to the class. As they say each element from a card, have them lay the card down in front of them for the class to see.
    1. My class is very small, so we did this together, but if you have a large class, you could break them into groups of 5-6.
    2. I would model a story first before anyone goes.

Game Mode: You can easily turn this into a game for points by playing it similar to Apples to Apples. Below are directions to play for points. For this, you will need to play for several rounds.

  1. Tell students that each round one person will not tell a story but will instead be the story master. The story master’s job is to listen to all of the stories and choose which one was the most “fantastical” or in other words, which story the story master preferred. The person who told the chosen story gets a magic coin chip (page 10).
    1. Optional: You could give the story master the task of giving several reasons why he/she chose a particular story. That way, the story master can also get speaking practice during that round.
  2. Each round, a new person is the story master.
  3. The person with the most coins at the end of the game is the winner.

Fantastical Challenge Mode: I haven’t tried this yet, but you could create a few wildcards or just have them draw from the stack of remaining cards. Once they have played all of their story cards and told their story, they have to draw a wild card and somehow tie it into the end of their story.

Fun past tense stories in English

Adaptation for writing: You could also turn this into a group writing activity if you’d prefer to practice written language. Put students into groups of 3-4, and give them cards. Ask them to write down the most fantastical story they can. Each group can read their story to the class, and then everyone votes for the best.

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  1. I am teaching past tense to my G5 students. I like your ideas of engaging them to use the tense while speaking.

    • Hi Joce Lynn, I’m glad you found the idea useful. My students enjoyed the activity a lot, and I think it was very beneficial for them since we don’t often focus on form with spoken activities.

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