This is a simple activity to set up and gives Elementary level students plenty of opportunity to speak and practise using the past simple.

Stuart Wiffin


  • Write up on the board: When did you last go to a restaurant? (or a similar question which best suits the age and culture of your students eg. ‘When did you last go the park?’ or ‘When did you last go to the cinema?’). 
  • Draw a line all the way down the board to the right of this in which you can write vocabulary and phrases that students ask you for during the activity. 
  • Throw the question open to the whole class and write up time phrases that students need in your vocabulary part of the board eg. Last week, two weeks ago, in March, on my birthday etc. 
  • Ask students what other questions you could ask about this event eg. for the restaurant they might say:
    •  Which restaurant did you go to?
    • Who did you go with?
    • What did you eat?
    • Did you like it?
    • Did you have dessert?
    • What did you talk about?
  • Build up a list of as many questions as you can on the board.


  • Once you have a good number of questions on the board  group students into two or threes and ask them to ask and answer questions together. 
  • Tell them they don’t need to write anything as the aim of this activity is speaking practice. Monitor as the students speak but don’t interrupt. 
  • Focus on students’ use of the past simple and make a note of any problems or mistakes.  As students ask you for help with vocabulary and phrases write these up on the board in your vocabulary section.
  • Bring students back together after about 10 minutes and go through any difficulties that you picked up with the use and form of the past simple during monitoring.
  • Move students round to form new pairs or groups of threes and give each group another ‘When did you last…? Question.  Again you should choose these to suit your students but they may include ‘go to the cinema?’  ‘go on holiday?’ ‘go shopping?’ ‘visit a relative?’. 
  • Give students a time limit, say 5 or 10 minutes, depending on how easily they can work with the target language, and ask them to write as many questions as they can think of for the situation they‘ve been given.  The teacher moves round the groups helping and correcting  the questions. Make sure all students in the group write the questions as they will need them later.
  • Further semi-controlled speaking practice.
  • Change students into new groups and tell them to ask their questions and this time to write down the answers.  As in step 2 you can monitor and write up the vocabulary that students need.
  • At this stage students return to the group in which they wrote their questions and compare the answers they received.  After a few minutes the teacher can go over any further past simple matters that came up during monitoring.


  • Every student now has a set of answers to the questions they wrote before.  They could use these to write a short text in the past simple either in class or at home.


Dear Wiffin, I think this will be a good activity even for secondary students in countries like India where english is taught as a second language.teaching grammar for the sake grammar is boring.but most teachers adapt grammar teanslation method as it is easy for both the teachers and the taught.Activities like these will not only create enthusiasm among the students but also improve their vocabulary too.infact grammar and vocabulay are the skeleton and blood of language. thanks a lot for your creative activity. I am eagerly waiting for your comments. with kind regards, JVL NARASIMHA RAO

Dear Stuart Wiffin your idea is too good, teaching english is very hard specially in the Middle East beacuse I live there and I'm an Arabian man and I know how the problems that the English student faces in their studying so they need for a new style of teaching in order to respond to the language as well as they can. THANKS regards MOHAMMAD AL-HATTAB

Dear Stuart, Alas, quite some students of 14 in my last school (in Hungary) would be bored to death during such activities unless they were allowed to contribute questions like "when did you last f... sb?" Warning them about proper topics was counter-productive to doing any work. The main problem nowadays seems to be not how we do things but their areas of interest, which for the last part does not seem to have anything nearly close to the interests of even the most widely interested teacher of English. They are almost exclusively interested in sex, drinking (or drugs sometimes) and internet games. No family, no holidays, no language, no adventures of the mind or intellect, only one-and-only, narrow type of music ... I was almost bored to death too so I quit. Great deterioration of the world of young people in the last few years. Honestly, such activities work only in the quietest of places where they can still be respectful of their elders and the outside world in general. I wonder what my respected friends in Asia feel about this. I first had these feelings mildly in China about 8 years ago, sorry.

Sounds like Hungarian students are a bit of a handful. Where are you teaching now? Is it going better? My experience is mostly in Western Europe with a bit of Sri Lanka thrown in, so it's interesting to hear how it goes, or would go, in other countries.
Stuart Wiffin

I think this will be very useful and interesting Thank you, sir


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