The best ESL teaching ideas for Past Continuous verbs (also called Past Progressive verbs) must include three things. These three things are essential to teaching verb tenses to students learning English as a second language or foreign language:
(1) Verb conjugation,
(2) Verb form, and
(3) Verb ********.
See ESL Verb Tenses for a thorough discussion on teaching all verb tenses to adults learning ESL.
The Past Continuous tense is appropriate for teaching beginning ESL students. Intermediate students may also benefit from teaching ideas for past continuous verbs, and I find that my advanced ESL students also often need a review of the f unctions of this tense.
However, before a grammar lesson on conjugating Past Continuous verbs, ESL students should be taught how to conjugate the irregular verb “to be” in the past tense. The verb “to be” is the essential helping verb (or auxiliary verb) used to form the Past Continuous.
Forming the Past Continuous/Past Progressive
The Past Continuous is formed by combining the past tense of the helping verb “to be” (was or were) with the “-ing” (or the Present Participle) form of the main verb.
It looks like this:
subject + was/were + -ing.”
For example, “She was eating breakfast” (“eat” is the main verb and “was” is the helping verb). The Present Participle of the main verb will always be the same, no matter who or what the subject is. It’s the helping verb in Past Continuous conjugation that will change according to the subject. The helping verb will be either “was” or “were.”
Past Continuous Verb Conjugation (using miscellaneous common verbs, for example)
Here are some examples of conjugated Past Continuous verbs.
1. I was talking. I was walking. I was dancing. I was thinking.
2. You were talking. You were walking. You were dancing. You were thinking.
3. She/He/It was talking. She/He/It was walking. She/He/It was dancing. She/He/It was thinking.
4. They were talking. They were walking. They were dancing. They were thinking.
5. We were talking. We were walking. We were dancing. We were thinking.
Past Continuous Verb Forms (five forms the ESL student must learn)
1. Affirmative Usage (e.g., She was drinking.)
2. Negative Usage (e.g., She wasn’t drinking.)
3. Yes/No Questions (e.g., Was she drinking?)
4. Short Answers (e.g., Yes, she was. No, she wasn’t.)
5. WH- Questions (e.g., When was she drinking?)
Past Continuous Functions (when to use the Past Continuous)
The Past Continuous/Past Progressive verb tense has two f unctions.
F unction #1: To express an activity that was in progress at a particular time in the past or when another action happened that interrupted the first activity.
Teaching ideas for past continuous Function #1 should include giving examples of this f nctions.Here are some examples.
Example 1: Mary was writing about the past progressive verb tense when the phone rang.
In this example, Mary started writing and then the phone rang and interrupted her writing action. She may or may not have continued writing after the phone rang. We don’t know from this sentence.
Example 2: Last night at eleven o’clock, the teacher was still preparing his ESL lesson. In this example, the teacher started preparing his ESL lesson before eleven o’clock and was still preparing it at eleven o’clock.
F unction #2: To talk about two activities that were in progress simultaneously in the past.
Of course, teaching ideas for past continuous Function #2 must also include some examples.
Example 1: Jane was cooking dinner while her roommate was setting the table.
Example 2: The baby was crying when we were trying to sleep.
You may notice that “when” is useful for both f unctions of the Past Continuous/Past Progressive. “While” is commonly used for the second f unctions of this verb tense. Use of these two conjunctions should also be discussed in any teaching ideas for past continuous verbs.
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