Remembering irregular verb forms, and using them, is not an easy task. While memorizing long columns of verbs might be useful, many students don’t like the idea of learning things by heart. Some even loathe it. And those who decide to take up the challenge will still need to practise the verbs in the classroom. And then practise some more. Here are some ways of working with irregular verbs that will help your students remember them once and for all.
This activity is much more fun than simply eliciting irregular verb forms. Use it instead of asking ‘What’s the Past Simple form of run?’-type of questions, as it will introduce extra challenge and excitement. It will also make your students think in English.
Prepare a list of situations using irregular verbs. These can include Past Simple, Past Participle or both forms, depending on your students’ level. For example:
Past Simple form
- something you bought last week
- the last time you rode a bike
- the last time you ate something delicious
- a present you got
- something you lent to a friend
- a film you saw not that long ago
Past Participle form
- a place you’ve never been to
- something you have brought to class with you
- a rumour you’ve recently heard
- someone you’ve rung today
- a book which was written by an American author
- something that is made of wood
- something that is grown in your country
- something that was given to you for a special occasion
Ask students to come up with words or phrases that fit each of the situations. They should write them down in random order. When they are ready, make sure they can’t see the situations any more (cover the list or stop sharing the screen). Then, in pairs or groups, ask students to guess which answer belongs to which situation by recalling what the situations were. The guessing part will go like this:
- You lent a hairdryer to a friend.
- You bought a hairdryer last week.
To help your students practise Past Simple forms more freely, ask them to tell stories. Tasks based around stories can vary in length and challenge, so it is probably best to start with easier, more controlled activities.
One of the ESL Brains lessons that deals with irregular verbs is the pre-intermediate lesson Kindness means everything. Your students will create a story based on an animated video. The lesson, however, mostly offers controlled practice of Past Simple. So after using it with your students, provide them with more free speaking practice, which you can do in two ways:
- Use other animated videos (like this one or this one) and ask students to tell the stories using their own words. Play the videos in parts and ask students to tell each other the parts in pairs. They can then repeat the whole story after they’ve watched the entire video. You can provide students with some irregular verbs or leave the choice of verbs up to them if you think they are ready for it.
- Come up with words or pictures of characters or objects and ask students to tell a story using them. The funnier the words, the better. See what story your students come up with using the following words: eyebrow, Christmas tree, cloud, disgusting, uncomfortable chair, architecture student. If they struggle with ideas, give them some prompts, e.g. ‘Why was the uncomfortable chair a problem?’, ‘Whose Christmas tree was it?’ They will get better at it with the second and the third stories.
Stories can obviously be used to practise Past Participle with your more advanced students through Past Perfect. Discover some great speaking ideas using irregular verb forms in these B1/B2 lessons: Be a better storyteller and Narrative tenses – using Past Simple/Continuous/Perfect for storytelling.
What we have in common
A fun task to practise both Past Simple and Past Participle forms of irregular verbs is asking your students to find experiences they have in common (in pairs or groups).
Give your students a list of irregular verbs such as the following: break, drive, teach, wear and write. Their task is to talk and ask each other about their experiences. They might ask ‘Have you ever broken a leg?’, and as the conversation continues they might realize they don’t have a broken limb in common but they have broken crockery on more than one occasion. At this point, they will be ready to tell you: ‘We have broken some plates.’ You can do the task first with a student in front of the class to show everyone how it works.
The task can be a great follow-up to the A2/B1 lesson You’re never too old for great things, but can be done successfully with upper-intermediate students, too. Just use some of the less obvious verbs, like quit, seek, sew or set, and make sure to tell students you want to get the feedback in Present Perfect. For example ‘We set an alarm clock every night.’ won’t work, but ‘We’ve set an alarm clock more than once this week.’ will. While talking, they will need to use both Past Simple and Past Participle forms of the verbs, as well as questions and negatives.
The more you let your students speak, the sooner they will remember the irregular verb forms, as these are used in the simplest of conversations. Remember to recycle the forms from time to time, for instance by doing one of the activities described in this article when you have some extra time left at the end of the lesson. Let us know how it goes and share your ideas for practising irregular verbs below!