Past Continuous Lesson Plan for ESL Learners

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Learning the basic structure and usage of the past continuous is usually not that difficult for most students. Unfortunately, this is not the case when it comes to actively integrating the past continuous into everyday conversations or written communications. This lesson is aimed at helping students actively use the past continuous in speaking and writing. This is done through the use of the past continuous as a descriptive tense to "paint a picture" in words of the moment when something important occurred.


To increase active usage of the past continuous


Speaking activity followed by a gap fill exercise and creative writing




  • Begin teaching the past continuous by telling a story with exaggerated details through the use of the past continuous. For example: "I remember that day well. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, and the children were playing games peacefully. At that moment, I saw Alex and fell in love." Point out how the past continuous is used to paint a picture of the scene.
  • Quickly review the past continuous structure with the class. Go over differences in usage between the past simple and past continuous. Point out that the past continuous focuses on a specific moment in the past.
  • Write various examples on the board of sentences combining the past simple and past continuous to illustrate the idea of an interrupted past. For example, "I was walking through the park when I met David." Ask students to comment on what function the past continuous plays in the example sentences.
  • Have students divide into small groups of 3-4.
  • Ask students to complete the activity by providing an appropriate response with the past continuous to describe an action that was interrupted.
  • Next, have students first conjugate verbs in the past simple to complete the story. Next, ask them to insert past continuous clauses into the appropriate place in the story.
  • Correct this exercise as a class. Make sure to note differences between the past continuous and past simple as you review.
  • Ask students to complete the written exercise focusing on a special day in their lives.
  • Once they've written their paragraph, ask students to find a partner. Each student should read their paragraph and ask questions to check to understand. 

Interrupted Actions

Use the verb suggestion to complete the sentence with an appropriate phrase expressing an interrupted action:

  1. I (watch) ____________ when her boss called with a job offer.
  2. My friends (play) _____________ when they felt the earthquake.
  3. When I walked in the door, they children (study) _________________.
  4. We (eat) _________________ when we heard the news.
  5. My parents (travel) ________________ when I telephoned that I was pregnant. 

Use of the Past Continuous in Writing

Put the following verbs into the past simple:

Thomas _______ (live) in the small town of Brington. Thomas _______ (love) walking through the beautiful forest that surrounded Brington. One evening, he ____ (take) his umbrella and _____ (go) for a walk in the woods. He ______ (meet) an old man named Frank. Frank _______ (tell) Thomas that, if he _____ (want) to become rich, he should invest in a little-known stock called Microsoft. Thomas ______ (think) Frank _____ (be) foolish because Microsoft ____ (be) a computer stock. Everybody _____ (know) that computers _____ (be) just a passing fad. At any rate, Frank _______ (insist) that Thomas _____ (be) wrong. Frank _______ (draw) a wonderful graph of future possibilities. Thomas ______ (begin) thinking that maybe Frank ______ (understand) stocks. Thomas _______ (decide) to buy some of these stocks. The next day, he ______ (go) to the stock broker's and _____ (buy) $1,000 worth of Microsoft stock. That _____ (be) in 1986. Today, that $1,000 is worth more than $250,000!

Improve the Story

Insert the following past continuous fragments into the above story:

  • As Frank was drawing the graph, ...
  • ... while he was walking to work,
  • it was raining, so...
  • While they were discussing the stock, ...
  • When he was returning from his walk, ...
  • As he was walking through the woods,

Written Exercise

  1. Write a description of an important day in your life. Include the most important events that occurred during that day in the past simple. Once you have written the important events using the past simple, try to include a description of what was happening at some of the specific moments when those events occurred to provide more details.
  2. Write out a few questions about your important day. Make sure to include a few questions in the past continuous. For example, "What was I doing when I found out about the job?"
  3. Find a partner and read your story twice. Next, ask your partner your questions and discuss.
  4. Listen to your partner's story and answer their questions. 
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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Past Continuous Lesson Plan for ESL Learners." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Beare, Kenneth. (2020, August 27). Past Continuous Lesson Plan for ESL Learners. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Past Continuous Lesson Plan for ESL Learners." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).