Storytelling: Narrative Tenses (B1+/B2)

I’m an avid reader of books but above all fantasy books. One of my favourite books is ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. It tells a tale of a boy name Kvothe – from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as an orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. If you haven’t already read it, please do so.

Anyway, this is a little frame story from the book that I’ve adapted for the purpose of presenting and practising narrative tenses with my students.

Firstly, I like to discuss books/reading with my students – Do you like to read? What kind of books do you read? Do you have a favourite book? Could you recommend a book to read? Has your taste in books changed over the years?

Then go through the vocabulary with students, elicit and board some examples and then have them practice with the gap-fill.

Next students to read the story and answer the following questions;

  1. How did Taborlin escape from the tower?
  2. Was he scared when he escaped from the tower?
  3. Who did he meet on the road?
  4. How did he get the amulet?
  5. How much did he pay for it?
  6. Why was it important to the story?
  7. What did he do when he heard a noise?
  8. What do you think will happen next?

Board the following examples and elicit form, meaning, and example from the students.

Past Simple

Form: regular verb(+ed) / irregular verb in past simple
Why: To tell the main events of a story, a series of events

‘He stepped to the edge, looked down, and without a second thought he stepped out into the open air.’

Past Continuous

Form: was/were + verb(+ing) 
Why? to describe a situation that continued for some time (1)
to give background information (2)
a continuous action that was interrupted by another action (3)
(past continuous with past simple)

‘But that wasn’t even the worst of it you see, because the lamps on the wall were burning blue. ‘

‘As Taborlin was preparing to fight, he recognised the figure, it was the Tinker he had met a few days earlier’

Past Perfect

Form: had + past participle
Why? to describe an action that happened before another past action

‘When he got to the ground and felt his side where they had stabbed him’

Now students have a better understanding of the grammar, get them to do some practice by completing the story. If they really liked the story of Taborlin they could produce the grammar by continuing the story or choose a prompt after the mystery story to write their own story in class or as homework.

Past Simple vs. Present Perfect when talking about travel experiences

A: Did you ever go to Paris? Yes, I did
B: When you went to Paris?
A: I go to Paris last Summer with my family.
B: Was good? Yes.

If you think this conversation is an example of good grammar then you need stop taking drugs immediately. Unfortunately, this is often a typical conversation I hear in the classroom, outside the classroom and even sometimes on the grammar-less streets of London. However, if everybody spoke English perfectly, I wouldn’t have a job and I love my job so, I guess every cloud has a silver lining.*

What’s wrong with it? Well, I’m a total grammar nerd so, a lot to be honest </insert angry face>.

Take a look at the conversation above between two people. What are they talking about? Travel – right, simple enough I suppose. But, what grammar tenses do they use? Ok, I’ll be nice and give you a clue, there are two of them.

If you said Past Simple and Present Perfect then DING DING DING – winner winner, chicken dinner.

Ok, good but why do we use these tenses?

If this is you right now, don’t worry. Ok, maybe worry but continue reading anyway.

Read More »

Lesson Plan: Present Perfect/Past Simple for Travel

Start the lesson by asking your students to discuss the following questions in pairs for a few minutes and then get some feedback.

  • Do you like to travel?
  • When did you last travel somewhere?
  • What is your most memorable travel experience?

Step 1 – Presentation

Now, ask students to brainstorm some countries and put them on one side of the board.

Ask a few sudents ‘Have you (ever) been to…?‘ If they say yes, ask some questions in the past simple to get more information.

  • Where did you visit?/Which city did you visit?
  • How long did you stay?
  • Who did you go with?
  • Why did you go there?
  • What did you do there?
  • Did you like it?

Step 2 – Practice with a dash of production


Elicit the the first question you asked from your students (present perfect) – board on left. Elicit the other questions (past simple) – board on right. Elicit name, form and why we use present perfect/past simple. Board grammar – including positive and negative examples for your students.

Present Perfect = experiences (finished action – action important, not time)

Past Simple = finished action (time/specific information important)

Instruct your students to do some practice in pairs. Student A ask a question in present perfect to Student B (using countries on the board if needed). If Student B says yes, ask more questions in past simple. If Student B says no, student B to now ask a question in present perfect and so on.

Give them 5-10 minutes depening on the level of the class.

*Note down any mistakes for delayed error correction (step 5)


Before we focused on experiences travelling to countries now I like to go through some examples of activities we experience while travelling. Brainstorm some activites including the verb (to ride an elephant, to go scuba diving,etc.) and put them on the other side of the board. Get the students to now practice the grammar again but with activities.

*Note down any mistakes for delayed error correction

Step 3 – More practice

Ok, so we’ve presented the grammar, practiced and had some nice production going on – but where’s the worksheet?

Give your students the worksheet. For the first and third activity they should do individually and then compare in pairs. If you are teaching a lower level class or they are struggling a little I would get them to do the second activity in pairs, otherwise follow the steps above.

Step 4 – Production,
production and more

There are several ways that we can get the students to produce the target language but that’s going to depend on the level, the students’ abilities and the time frame – you will have to adapt this lesson to suite your needs.


  • You could get the students to write questions for pair/group discussion
  • Write about their travel experiences


  • Hand out a Find Someone Who
  • Create a Find Someone Who with the class
  • Board Game

Step 5 – Error Correction

During this lesson you should have been noting down any mistakes the students made with the grammar. Number and put them on board. Tell students every sentence has a mistake and it’s their job to find the mistake and correct it.

If you want to jazz it up a little you could put them in pairs or smalls groups and award points for corrections.