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Talking about the past

Conversation prompts

Talking about the past

Two two main tenses used in conversation are past and future. And, I think it's likely that the past tense is used the most often. Here are some more conversations prompts to practice it.

When talking about things that happened in the past, it’s a good idea to have a cheat sheet ready for students to refer to. Download this cheat sheet comparing simple past and past perfect from my Patreon.

Historical events

  1. Explain what happened in these important years in history.
  2. Why are these years important?
  3. Who was affected by the events in these years?
1095 1452 1492 1517 1789
1898 1945 1969 1989  
2000 2001 2011 2020  

Old dreams

Wishes and dreams change over time.

I have hundreds of wishes and dreams that I used to wish would come true. Sometimes life moved in incompatible ways, sometimes I grew out of the wishes and dreams.

Some of my childhood wishes were impossible to begin with – like finding a world full of magic and talking animals at the back of my wardrobe. I used to dream of becoming a powerful sorceress. And I still wish I could fly!

  • What did you used to wish or dream for, that you don’t now?
  • What happened to those wishes and dreams?

I always wanted to live in middle earth – the languages of middle earth, gardens and wild spaces, people and races, homes and clothing, mythology and food in middle earth fascinated me from a young age, and still does!

In the old days

What did you used to do when you were younger, that you don’t do now?

  • What did you used to eat or drink?
  • What hobbies did you used to have?
  • How did you used to spend your time?
  • Did you reach any goals that you used to have, or have they changed over time?

Write about or explain how your life and interests used to be, and how they have changed over time.

I used to spend all of my school lunch times, and recess breaks, and several nights after school, playing in various music ensembles. I always had thought I would be in music education when I grew up!


Describe an item or place that holds many memories for you.

  • Why is it special?
  • What events, people, sights and feelings does it make you remember?
  • How does it make you feel now?

What did you do yesterday?

Describe what you did yesterday in as much detail as you can. Start with what you were thinking about when you woke up, even before you got out of bed. Include what you ate for breakfast, and how many coffees you drank throughout the day.

  • What did you have for lunch?
  • Did you study or read something interesting?
  • Did you hug someone?
  • What was the weather like?

Experiences - present perfect

What have you done during your life? Write a few sentences explaining what you have done in the past, without specifying a time. They may be simple sentences, about small things. For example:

  • I have brushed my hair.
  • I have walked in the rain.
  • I have ridden a camel.
  • I have eaten natto (and I hated it).
  • I have used a cute backpack.
  • I have seen the sun sink into the sea.
  • I have dyed my hair blue.
  • I have been in an earthquake.

Categories | PROMPTS
Tags | language learning, teaching
13 Dec 2014