Using Short Paragraph Stories to Teach Simple Past in English – Part 1
Whenever I have to teach the Simple Past tense in English, one activity I always use is speaking and writing practice using some short “stories” that I made up. Writing them was a lot more difficult than I’d originally imagined since use of only regular verbs in a narrative is not really authentic language. Native speakers simply don’t talk that way. But, to give my EFL English students some practice in writing the forms of regular verbs in past and especially in pronouncing them, I came up with a couple of shorts using only this form. They’re harder to read and pronounce than “normal”, but the intensive practice seems to be quite helpful. So, I continue to use them even though I know this speech pattern is not going to occur in natural English speech.
Since my learners are all from a Spanish-speaking country in South America, Colombia, they typically exhibit a problem in pronouncing the -ed verb ending in its various forms. I’d noticed the same propensity towards pronunciation problems with -ed regular verb endings in other Spanish-speaking areas, so I prepared exercises to help with this early on. Students in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama and Ecuador have all benefited from these simple “stories” I hope that perhaps your EFL / ESL students will too.
TEFL Learners can read the story paragraphs aloud, focusing on the correct pronunciation of the verb ending forms. They can fill-in the blanked out endings in the paragraph to practice adding -ed or just -d as required. Also they’ll practice with when to change “y” to an “i” before adding -ed. For example, Play becomes played, and stay becomes stayed, but try and cry become tried or cried. The stories could be cut into strips and re-ordered, acted out as a “skit”, pantomimed, or a variety of written exercises and comprehension activities could be added. As an added feature, I boldface the verbs in the paragraphs.
I attempted to create short paragraph stories that would be of some interest as well. One is set in the Old West and is called, “The Sheriff of Calico County”. The others take place during a visit to the zoo, and during a bank robbery, respectively. They’re entitled, “The Zoo” (169 words) and “The State Bank” (131 words). Kinda catchy titles, ain’t they? There was just a bit of “writing license” taken in the creation of these short paragraph stories. Hey, it worked for Shakespeare, didn’t it?
Here are two as examples for you to try out.
Last Wednesday we decided to visit the zoo. We arrived the next morning after we breakfasted, cashed in our passes and entered. We walked toward the first exhibits. I looked up at a giraffe as it stared back at me. I stepped nervously to the next area. One of the lions gazed at me as he lazed in the shade while the others napped. One of my friends first knocked then banged on the tempered glass in front of the monkey’s cage. They howled and screamed at us as we hurried to another exhibit where we stopped and gawked at plumed birds. After we rested, we headed for the petting zoo where we petted wooly sheep who only glanced at us but the goats butted each other and nipped our clothes when we ventured too near their closed pen. Later, our tired group nudged their way through the crowded paths and exited the turnstiled gate. Our car bumped, jerked and swayed as we dozed during the relaxed ride home.
The State Bank
This morning at 8:33, someone robbed the State Bank downtown. The thief entered the bank and stated that he wanted all their money. The thief smiled but looked very tired. The tellers seemed worried. The thief received the money he requested, asked to be excused, then stormed out quickly as the door revolved. He dashed down the street and screeched away in a damaged car that rattled, squeaked and smoked. It appeared that he really needed the money. The police soon arrived. They barreled and chased down the street. They searched and questioned bystanders, but the thief vanished. The police failed to catch him. Investigators abandoned the case and neglected to do anything else. The money was never recovered and the thief was never identified the report of the incident ended.
In part two of this article series, I demonstrate the use of a similar style, but much longer piece for practicing simple past of regular verbs. If you’re successful and want to try another of my “stories” or two, just e-mail me for more. Better yet try your hand at coming up with a couple of your own. Either way, I’m happy to be able to share these with you and I’d be happy to hear how these worked for you and your EFL / ESL English learners. So, feel free to let me know how well these worked (or didn’t) for you.