Patterns beyond the past simple

The following grammar exercise on the past simple is from our book Outcomes Elementary (National Geographic Learning). Students complete the sentences with the correct past simple form of verbs given in brackets at the end of sentences – resulting in the following.

1  I had lunch with my parents.

2  I went to the beach with some friends.

3  We stayed at home and relaxed.

4  I watched a football match on Saturday.

5  There was a free concert in town.

6  Some friends came to our house for dinner.

7  I went shopping and bought some new shoes.

8  I spent all weekend studying for an exam.

Obviously, when going through the answers, teachers can correct and focus on the past simple forms, but attention can also be drawn to other chunks and patterns in the sentences that could help students say new things. In general, our technique is to work with the whole class: say one or two more examples and see if students can think of others. This means that when you elicit the correct answer to number 1 – had – you then ask then class questions like “OK. I had lunch with my parents. Anything else that I maybe had with them?” or “OK. I had lunch with my parents. Anyone else maybe I had lunch with?” By doing this, you might expect to end up with something like the variations below:

1  I had dinner with my parents.

I had dinner with some friends.

I had a coffee with some friends.

2  I went to the cinema with some friends.

I went to a friend’s house.

3  We stayed at home and watched TV.

   I stayed at home and did my homework.

I watched the Chelsea match on Saturday.

   I watched a film on Friday.

My brother and his family came to my house for dinner.

Some friends came to my house for lunch.

7  I went shopping and bought a new TV.

I went shopping and bought this shirt.

8  I spent all Saturday studying.

   I spent all Saturday working.

Note that not all sentences necessarily provide examples of useful, generative patterns – and obviously you probably wouldn’t want to look at every single one of the patterns above. For instance, perhaps you might decide that the chunk spend time doing is too difficult for the level, or for your group.

Students will also make mistakes when they try to produce their own version of these patterns – or they may produce sentences which seem strange to you. You can either correct these or ask questions about them. For example, once when I taught this exercise, a student offered I had breakfast with my students. When I said ‘Really?’ and tried to find out more, he explained (in broken English) that he was a teacher at a university and lived on campus, so often did this.

Have you noticed / exploited any patterns in exercises that you have done recently?

And remember: if you’d like to ask how we might exploit the language in any particular exercise, you can send us the list of words or completed exercise with a reference via info@lexicallab.


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6 Responses

  1. Sigo Gatt says:

    Exploit it and demand high 😉

    • Hugh Dellar says:

      Indeed. If only the main folk behind Demand High paid as much attention to the exploitation of language as they do to methodology, though!

  2. ESOLworcester says:

    In an intermediate class today, we were looking at different ways of using ‘I wish…’. Initially, we looked at it through a grammar based approach (e.g. I wish + past; I wish + had + verb 3; I wish + would). Of course this was confusing! So instead I elicited some sentence heads and wrote them on the board, choosing only the most common. Some of the ones that we came up with were: ‘I wish I didn’t have to…’ ; ‘I wish I had seen…’ ‘I wish you wouldn’t…’
    It was by completing these heads with common endings (‘I wish I had seen the match’; ‘I wish you wouldn’t talk to me like that’) and discussing their meanings that my learners were able to produce accurate-ish sentences of their own. A strictly grammar based approach might end up with a student producing something like: ‘I wish I hadn’t to go to work tomorrow’. By doing it lexically, we can avoid the confusion of using a so-called ‘past tense’ verb when talking about the present. If a student enquires about this use of the ‘past’ then I always use Lewis’s explanation of the second form (I call it verb 2) as a marker for distance (in this case, a distance of reality, and not time).
    It was through Hugh’s blog that I first discovered this way of thinking! It changed everything for me!

    • Lexicallab says:

      Wow! That seems like a huge overload of grammar at Intermediate level. Was that from a coursebook? In the new OUTCOMES second edition of UPPER-Intermediate, we’ve got a thing on He’s always –ing & I wish he wouldn(n’t) . . . in Unit 13, so well on the way towards Advanced, and then in Unit 14, another thing on I wish _ past tenses & past perfect to express regret. These two both serve similar functions – expressing regrets about present or past actions / inactions, whereas I wish you would is much more about expressing annoyance, so makes sense to teach separately, I think.

      At Intermediate, we just have one thing on I WISH + past perfect and really try to focus on ways in which the structure is commonly lexicalised, so that the context is more immediately apparent and the students are seeing sentences that they may well wish to say themselves. Things like this:

      I wish I’d known.
      I wish I’d never asked.
      I wish they’d told me earlier.
      Honestly, I wish I hadn’t said anything.

      I do think you’re right, though, that seeing slightly longer stems makes it much easier for students to grasp what might be done with the structure. And agree too that they need to see and think about contextual meanings of a fair few decent realistic examples before they stand any real chance of producing anything decent themselves.

      Oh, and thanks for the kind words about my old blog.
      Hope you find plenty more here that equally inspires you.

      • ESOLworcester says:

        You’re right – it was an upper/advanced class. Don’t know why I said intermediate! Loved the old Outcomes (and Innovations as well) and look forward to checking out the new Outcomes books. Thanks!

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