The 1 Blue Word Rule

The Past Basic is the element that makes a tense past, as opposed to present. In fact, the method starts with present sentences and transforms them into past ones. These may be progressive/continuous or not, and they may be perfect or not, as the 1 Blue Word rule is relative to all past tenses. For elementary students, the focus should remain on turning Present Simple into Past Simple.

What to Expect

The 1 Blue Word Rule is about correctly forming past sentences. It builds off the knowledge of individual past verbs, so this lesson should be taught only after students have learned the past form.

This method addresses the problem that some learners have of using duplicate past forms in a sentence (such as ‘Did he went to the park?”). Make past words stand out by making them blue. For each verb string, only one word should be blue.

This method is immediately applicable to the Past Simple tense, but it’s also relevant for other past tenses.


Learners should already be familiar with the following:

Positive vs Negative vs Yes/No Questions: three corresponding sentences could be made with the same words (except not and maybe do) but in a different order. Students should be familiar with the prupose and structure of all three sentence types.

Helping Verbs, aka Auxiliary Verbs, are the small verbs that come in front of more important verbs. They are also the words that can be contracted with ‘not’.

    • am / is / are / was / were
    • have / has / had
    • do / does / did
    • can / could

In addition to knowing what it means for a verb or a sentence to be past, learners should know to add -ed to the end of most verbs to make them past. Students should also be familiar with some basic irregular past verbs, especially helping verbs (see above) and very common verbs like go/went.

Progressive Tenses – the video gives a brief example with a progressive sentence, so it helps if students have encountered them before. However, it’s not essential, so if students don’t know this yet, you can skip over that part for now.

Proficiency Level

Students at the A1 level should be familiar with past forms. They start learning Past Simple at a Beginner level (or 1st out of 6). This method carries over to more advanced past tenses as well.

*actual starting level varies from one course-book series to the next

The 1 Blue Word rule

When you have multiple verbs together in the same verb string – where one is the main verb and the others are helping verbs – only the first verb should be changed into the past form in order to transform the entire sentence from a present tense into a past tense.

Bonus Notes

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Keep on Learning; Keep on Teaching

The 1 Red 'S' Rule

Use a similar strategy of applying color to make sure there's one and only one of something; this time, to help with plurals and the 3rd-person 's'.
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Past Perfect

Combine the Past Basic form and meaning with the Present Perfect form and meaning to get the Past Perfect tense.
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