drilling irregular verbs …

… can be so much fun!

Two weeks ago the ELT chat on Twitter was dedicated to the topic of learner generated content. (the summary of the chat is here) Even though I couldn’t participate in the chat, reading the summary gave me loads of ideas and woke some dormant lesson plans I had carefully stored in my brain department called “dormant lesson plans”.

I had got to the stage with my students were ignoring the existence of irregular verbs in the English language was no more an option. They had to take the plunge and drill these forms into their brains like permanent tattoos. So here’s what I had:

  • a lesson of one hour and a half
  • 20 (more or less) motivated students ranging from A1 to A2 (plus three B1 students)
  • confidence that they will lend themselves willingly for another learning experience I had on the menu

To put together the lesson I used various sources adapting their content to this particular class and to my own whims 😉 And this is what happened.

As a warm-up activity, I showed past simple forms of 13 irregular verbs on the screen and asked students to read and memorize them during one minute. After the image had been turned off, students had to write down as many verbs as they could remember. Maximum was 9 verbs one of the stronger students could recall. They then could see the image again and complete their list followed by adding the infinitive and past participle forms plus the translations into French. Once this noticing and becoming aware task had been completed I asked them to drill these 13 verbs for a short while in pairs.

Activity nr 1: I asked students to form groups of 4, handed them 12 small cards and asked the group to write the infinitive of an irregular verb on each card. They could pick any verb from the list of irregular verbs that needs to be memorized by the end of the school year. The twelve cards were then handed to another group, who had to read them and make sure they knew the past simple of the verbs as well as their meaning. The cards were then shuffled and put face down into a pile in the middle of the desk. One of the students took the first card and made the first sentence of a story starting ‘Yesterday I … ‘ The next student picked a new card, repeated what had already been said and added his / her sentence. In the end the students had a story with twelve sentences each containing the past simple form of an irregular verb. And what’s more, they had been repeating the same irregular verbs quite a lot by then. While the students were putting together their stories I monitored the activity. I helped with any language questions, made some corrections, encouraged groups that were struggling, but mostly enjoyed seeing them so involved and enthusiastic. Given the motley group and random order of verbs they had to use to create their stories, the final outcomes had really twisted logic to them but I was so happy to see how creative the students can be.

IMG_1944Activity nr 2: Once the oral chain practice was over, I asked each group to write their story down leaving out the irregular verbs. The gapped stories together with the twelve cards were then given back to the group who had produced the cards in the first place. They now had to complete the story of their fellow classmates using the verbs. This part of the lesson caused a lot laughter as students were reading and deciphering the bizarre stories of other groups. Once the stories had been completed, each group could once again get back their story and check how well others had understood it.

Activity nr 3: To finish the lesson students had 5 minutes to drill the 12 verbs on the cards their group held. I asked each student to take their turn and go through all the verbs reciting the three forms. The other three students had to correct and memorize at the same time. As you might guess, the fourth student didn’t need much correcting 😉

When I told my students to stop and go to their lunch break, they had hard time believing the time was already up. Their faces beamed and there was so much positive energy in the class I could have hugged them all. From their feedback forms I could read the following:

  • Today’s lesson was so dynamic!
  • Today’s lesson was fun!
  • It was great to see everybody so involved!
  • I learned 12 new irregular verbs with no effort today!  (This is my personal favourite 🙂

How do you make students swallow the bitter pill of irregular verbs? I would love to hear your ideas!

Sources I used to put together my lesson:

Ur, P. (2009). Grammar Practice Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



One thought on “drilling irregular verbs …

  1. Thank you so much. I’ve been struggling with getting my weak 10th graders to be motivated and I think this may work. I am going to try this lesson tomorrow. Thanks again for the great ideas.

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