ESL Activities and Games | Past simple questions with the verb to be

Grammar | 60 - 90 minutes

An ESL lesson plan for teaching elementary level students how to form past simple questions using the verb 'to be'. This lesson plan includes a lead-in activity, along with several group activities and games suited for low-resource classrooms.

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Use of the board

The board work below offers one suggestion on how to present the grammar of the target language. Start off by giving a very basic past simple statement and attempting to elicit how we change the sentence to make a question. After that, move onto the visualisation of how we form questions that begin with was or were, the colour-coded text gives you an idea of what you should be attempting to elicit. Next cover a few examples of short answers, elicit one for each example you put on the board. Finally, demonstrate how we can combine these structures with question words to form more complex and interesting questions. If possible, compare and contrast with the L1 of the class.

EFL - ESL Lead-in activity for elementary | Past simple questions be


Question builder

The students complete a gap-fill exercise then create past simple questions that would have prompted each response.

Start by adding the following style of gap-fill exercise to the board:

1. We ____in Scotland last year.
2. The hotel ____ very nice.
3. It____ near the beach.
4. The weather ____ very good, it rained a lot.
5. There ____ a lot of activities to do, so I was bored.

Now have students complete the sentences before making questions that could give these responses. When they have finished, they can compare their answers with a partner.


A writing activity where students prepare a list of questions that can be used to ask someone about their last vacation.

Elicit some prompts that students could use to ask someone about a holiday and add them to the board:

other people?

Using these, students will write questions that they can use to interview their partner about their last holiday. Depending on the amount of practice needed, between three and six should be fine.

Holiday interview

For this follow-on speaking activity, students will take turns interviewing each other about the last holiday they went on.

The students will interview each other using the questions they made earlier. Monitor for the correct usage of the target language and correct any mistakes.

Some reporting

The students will answer a few questions from the teacher about what they learned from their interview.

Go round the classroom and quiz each student about their interviews. Depending on the size of the class, three to five questions each should be enough.

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Students will interrogate two suspects of an imaginary crime to look for holes in their story. 

First, explain the concepts alibisuspect and interrogation to your students. Next, try to elicit an imaginary crime. Make it as funny as possible. Some examples if you get stuck:

1. Kidnapped Donald Trump.
2. Stole a penguin from the zoo.
3. Murdered Ronald McDonald.

Now, select two students to be the suspects and each other's alibi. Inform them that they will have answer questions about what they were doing at the time of the crime. Before sending them away to get their story straight, elicit where they were at the time of the offence for all the class to hear (zoo, cinema, theme park, football match).

Send the suspects off and instruct the rest of the class to come up with a list of questions that they will use to interrogate the suspects. You can help the students with their questions.

Bring the first defendant back to answer the questions while their alibi either leaves the classroom or listens to some music. When the students have finished interrogating the first defendant, bring in their alibi. If the stories match, they are off the hook. If not, guilty.

More A2 ESL lesson plans for elementary students

We hope that you were able to grab a few ideas from this lesson plan. Our suggested next lesson focuses on using some and any. Be sure to check out our full list of elementary ESL lesson plans, A2 lower and A2 upper. For a broader range of language levels, you can browse the complete collection.

Are you an iOS or Android user? Then you should give our app a go! The TEFL Handbook app has over 100 lesson plans, 300+ ESL activities, over 100 ideas for games and has been designed for the ESL the classroom.

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