Friday, May 6, 2016

Teaching the past perfect (a lesson plan)

I used a little story I made up to introduce the past perfect. I asked the students to take a piece of paper and try to write down everything I said. I told them I would tell the story only twice and they had to take notes of everything that happened in the story.

I used the following story about one of my students, Arda, who tended to be late for the first period.
When Arda woke up this morning, it was 8.30. He immediately got out of bed and ran to class, but it was too late. By the time he came to school, the teacher had already started teaching. It was 8.46.
(The learners know that school starts at 8.40 and they are not allowed to enter after that.)

Then, I asked the learners to put all the events in the story in the order that they happened.

They came up with the following:
  1. Arda woke up.
  2. He ran to class.
  3. He came to school.
  4. The teacher started teaching.
I asked if everyone agreed with this order. Most of them did, but a few of them realized that there was something wrong. I told them that two of the events were not in the correct order. Then, they noticed that the fourth sentence (the teacher started teaching) should come before the sentence "he came to school". I asked them which part of the story helps us understand that, and they told me that it was the time expression "by the time" and the past perfect structure "had started". Afterwards, we rewrote the last part of the story like this:

"The teacher started teaching before Arda came to school." or

"The teacher started teaching. And then, Arda came to school."

The following timeline might also help to emphasize that both events happened in the past.



You can give (or elicit) the following explanation to summarize when the past perfect is used:

We use the past perfect to talk about an action that happened before another action in the past. 

Now you can ask some concept check questions to see if everything is clear. Write the following examples on the board. Break down each example into two (the past perfect part and the the simple past part) and call them A and B. For the first example, A is "I recognized him", and B is "I had seen him before". Then ask the learners which part of the sentence happened first: A or B? (They should say B since it includes the past perfect structure.) Do the same with the rest of the examples.
  1. I recognized him because I had seen him several times before. 
  2. He had already eaten by the time we arrived. 
  3. I had worked there for 6 months before anybody spoke to me. 
Introduce the negative and interrogative forms as well using the examples above. 

When you feel that they are ready, use this worksheet to do some mechanical practice. Then, you can use this worksheet to do some speaking practice with the past perfect. 

If you would like to include a revision of the other past and perfect structures, this worksheet might help.