If you want to tell stories or describe past events in English, then you need to know about narrative tenses. In this guide, you will learn what narrative tenses are, the different kinds of narrative tenses, and how to use them naturally to tell stories and talk about things that happened in the past. We will also detail some fun narrative tense activities, so no matter if you’re learning or teaching narrative tenses, we’ve got you covered!
What Are Narrative Tenses?
Narrative tenses are verb tenses that you use when you tell a story that happened in the past. These tenses are typically used to talk about historical events, recent actions, and even biographical information. So, you’ll find them in textbooks, stories, and spoken accounts.
What Are The Four Narrative Tenses?
The four narrative tenses are past simple, past continuous, past perfect, and past perfect continuous. Let’s look at each of these tenses one by one.
1. Past Simple
The past simple tense is used to talk about a certain action or event that took place at a specific point in the past. Here are some past simple example sentences:
- I visited Italy last summer.
- Mum cooked lasagne for dinner.
- I didn’t go to school yesterday.
- Last year, I went to Korea.
- I watched a movie yesterday with Kelly.
2. Past Continuous
The past continuous tense is used to talk about an action or event that was in progress at a specific point in the past. Here are some past continuous example sentences:
- I was cooking dinner when Chris called.
- It was raining yesterday.
- Kelly was studying English last night.
- The students were running in the classroom.
- We were eating sushi in the restaurant.
3. Past Perfect
The past perfect tense is used to talk about an event or action that was completed before a certain point in the past. Here are some past perfect example sentences:
- The train had departed by the time I got to the station.
- After Kelly had finished her homework, she played computer games.
- I had known about it for quite a while.
- I had just eaten a whole pizza, so I wasn’t hungry.
- Mom had gone to work when I arrived home.
4. Past Perfect Continuous
The past perfect continuous tense is used to talk about an event or action that was happening in the past and continued up until a certain point in the past. Here are some past perfect continuous example sentences:
- I had been living in Italy for five years when I decided to move back home.
- Kelly had been exercising every day before she got injured.
- My father had been working at the same company since 1995.
- Chris had been studying hard for three hours before he fell asleep.
- Craig was very tired. He had been running for an hour.
Activities To Teach Narrative Tenses
Now that we know what narrative tenses are and the different kinds of narrative tenses let’s look at some fun activities to teach narrative tenses.
1. The “Ask Your Partner” Game
This first game to teach narrative tenses is really simple and needs almost no preparation. First, prepare a list of questions and write them on the board. These questions should require an answer in one of the narrative tenses. The particular questions you write on the board depends on which narrative tenses you wish to practice. Here are some examples you can use:
- What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
- What were you doing before class today?
- How long have you been living in your current house?
- What countries have you visited?
Once you have the questions on the board, give students 5 minutes or so to ask and answer these questions with their partners. Next, have students share with the class the answers their partners gave. This simple activity gives students the chance to practice talking using narrative tenses with their partners and to practice changing narrative tense sentences into the third person as they report on what their partners did.
2. The “Story” Game
This next narrative tense activity requires a little preparation. Prepare a short story about something that took place in the past and use lots of narrative tense sentences. Next, divide the story into sentences/paragraphs and write them on many different cards. The number of cards you use depends on how many are in your class.
Once you have the story written down on the cards, mix the cards up and give one card to each student. Next, ask students to walk around the class and work with their classmates to piece together the story in the correct order. If you have a particularly large class, you can have students complete the activity in teams.
3. Narrative Tense Exercise
In order to master narrative tenses, students need lots and lots of practice. A great way to practice is with narrative tense exercises. It is quite simple to make your own narrative tense exercise. Just create ten or so sentences with blank spaces and ask students to choose the correct narrative tense form.
Here is a fun narrative tense quiz to get you started. There are ten sentences written in either the past simple, past continuous, past perfect, or the past perfect continuous tense. You must read the sentences and then choose the correct past tense form to fill in the blank. For more exercises like this, check out our English grammar exercises and our interactive English quizzes.
Thanks for reading. Before you go, be sure to check out these related resources on narrative tenses that you might find useful:
Past Simple Exercises
How To Teach The Past Simple
Past Continuous Exercises