Past Simple Was / Were - ESL Activities, Games and Worksheets

Find someone who was...

ESL Was/Were Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Elementary (A1-A2) - 25 minutes

Here is a free past simple verb 'to be' activity to help students practice asking and answering yes/no questions with 'was' and 'were'. Give each student a copy of the worksheet. The students begin by reviewing the items on the worksheet and forming a 'Were you...?' question for each one. Next, the students go around the class asking the questions to one another, e.g. 'Were you asleep at 6 o'clock this morning?' When a student finds someone who answers 'Yes, I was', they write down that person's name in the corresponding column next to the item. The student then asks a follow-up question and notes down the answer in the last column, e.g. 'What time did you wake up?' When everyone has finished, the students give feedback by answering questions with 'Who...?', e.g. 'Who was asleep at 6 o'clock this morning?'
 

Sightseeing in Washington, D.C.

ESL Was or Were Worksheet - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking Activity - Elementary (A1-A2) - 25 minutes

In this 'was' and 'were' worksheet activity, students use the past simple of the verb 'to be' to complete information about four people who went sightseeing in Washington, D.C. Divide the students into pairs (A and B) and give each student a corresponding A or B worksheet. In their pairs, students ask and answer questions with 'was' and 'were' in order to complete a chart with information about four people who went sightseeing in Washington, D.C. Next, students decide if was and were sentences about the four people are true or false. If a sentence is false, students change one word in the sentence to make it true. In the last exercise, students use prompts to write true sentences about the four people with was(n't) or were(n't).
 

Was or Were Worksheet

ESL Was or Were Worksheet - Reading and Writing Activity - Elementary (A1-A2) - 20 minutes

This insightful 'was' or 'were' worksheet helps students to learn and practice the past simple of the verb 'to be'. Give each student a copy of the worksheet. Students begin with a gap-fill exercise where they complete sentences with was or were. Students then move on to read a set of sentences and choose either 'was' or 'were' to complete each one. Afterwards, students rewrite 12 sentences, changing the verb 'to be' into the past simple (was or were). Finally, check the correct answers with the class and review how to use 'was' and 'were'.
 
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Was or Were Interactive Worksheet

ESL Was or Were Interactive Worksheet - Reading and Writing Online Activity - Elementary (A1-A2) - 20 minutes

Here is an interactive PDF version of the above worksheet for teachers who work online. In the interactive worksheet, students complete online exercises to learn and practice 'was' and 'were'.
 

Was/Were Board Game

ESL Was/Were Board Game - Reading, Listening and Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

In this free was/were activity, students review the verb 'to be' in the past simple by playing a board game where they give true or false answers to questions. Give each group of three or four a copy of the game board, a set of true or false cards, a dice and counters. The students shuffle the cards and place them face down in a pile next to the game board. The players then take it in turns to roll the dice and move their counter along the board. When a player lands on a square, they pick up a true or false card from the pile and look at it, without showing it to anyone. The player then answers the question on the square using 'was' or 'were' by giving either true or false information as indicated on the card. Next, the other students ask follow-up questions to determine if the player is lying or telling the truth. After a few questions have been answered, the other students guess whether the player's answer is true or false. The player then reveals the answer. The students who guessed correctly each score one point. The next player then rolls the dice and so on. When a player reaches the finish, the game ends and the points are added up. The student with the most points wins the game. This game can also be played without the true or false element. In this version, when a player lands on a square, they answer the question and talk about their answer for one minute without stopping. If a player can't think of anything to say, makes a grammar mistake or stops talking before the time is up, they move back to their previous square or miss a turn. The first student to reach the finish wins the game.
 

Where were you?

ESL Was/Were Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

In this was/were worksheet activity, students interview each other about their whereabouts at certain times in the past using past simple 'Wh' questions with the verb 'to be'. Divide the students into pairs (A and B) and give each student a corresponding worksheet. The students then take it in turns to interview each other about where they were at certain times in the past by asking 'Where were you…?' questions from their worksheet, e.g. 'Where were you last night?' Students note down their partner's answers in the second column on the worksheet and ask past simple follow-up questions to gain as much information as possible. Afterwards, the students write past simple sentences in the last column about their partner’s whereabouts at the listed times. When the students have finished, they tell the class what they found out.
 

Who were they?

ESL Was/Were Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 20 minutes

In this intriguing was/were activity, students take on the role of an unnamed famous person in history and try to establish the identities of other famous people in their group by asking and answering questions using the past simple of the verb 'to be'. Divide the students into groups of four (Student A, B, C and D). Give each student a corresponding part of the worksheet. The students then take on the role of an unnamed famous person in history. The students read the information about their mystery famous person in the 'You were...' section of the worksheet. The students then find out information about the other famous people in their group by asking and answering questions using the past simple of the verb 'to be', e.g. 'Were you born in 1961?' When a group member replies 'Yes, I was', the student writes their letter (e.g. Student B) next to the question in the 'Who was...?' section of the worksheet. The students continue asking and answering questions until all the worksheets are complete. The students then discuss their findings about each student and try to guess the names of the four famous people. Afterwards, each group tells the class their four guesses and the correct answers are revealed. Groups score one point for each correct answer. The group with the most points wins.
 

Change the Subject

ESL Was/Were Board Game - Listening and Speaking Activity - Low intermediate (B1) - 30 minutes

In this challenging past simple verb 'to be' activity, students review was, wasn't, were and weren't by playing a board game where they try to make believable past simple affirmative or negative sentences about different subjects. Give each group of three or four a copy of the game board, a set of was/wasn't and were/weren't subject cards, a dice and counters. The students shuffle each set of subject cards separately and place them in two piles on the board in the spaces shown. The players then take it in turns to roll the dice and move their counter along the board. When a player lands on a square, they take a subject card from the corresponding pile, i.e. was/wasn't or were/weren't. If a player picks up a 'choose a subject' card, the player can choose any subject they like for their sentence. If the player picks up a 'choose a student (or two students)' card, they make a sentence about a student or students in their group. The player then reads out the subject and tries to make a believable affirmative or negative sentence with the past simple of the verb 'to be' shown on the square, e.g. 'Tom wasn't in class yesterday'. Sentences are not allowed to be repeated. If the sentence is perceived or known to be true, the player stays on the square. If the sentence is unbelievable or grammatically incorrect, the other students challenge the player to justify or correct their sentence. If the player is unable to do this, they go back to their previous square. The first player to reach the finish wins the game.
 

How was your holiday?

ESL Was/Were Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Low intermediate (B1) - 30 minutes

In this rewarding was/were teaching activity, students review the verb 'to be' in the past simple by writing sentences describing a holiday. Have the students sit in a circle in groups and give each student a copy of the worksheet. The students read the first question on the worksheet (How was the journey there?) and complete the sentence, describing the journey. The students then fold the paper as indicated and hand the worksheet to the person on their right. The student on their right reads the next question (What was the weather like?) and writes a complete sentence, describing the weather with the verb 'to be' in the past simple. The student then folds the paper so the sentence is hidden and passes it to the person on their right who answers the next question and so on. When the last question has been answered, the students pass the worksheet to the person on their right. Tell the students that these sentences are about their last holiday. The students then unfold the worksheet and take it in turns to read their holiday to the people in their group. The students discuss the good and bad points of their holidays and decide whose holiday was the best and worst. Afterwards, the groups give feedback to the class on their findings.
 
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