The Inside Scoop

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A Project On Past Perfect

*note: When we talk about ‘Past Perfect’, that includes both the simple form of the tense and the continuous/progressive form of the tense.


For this project, each student should think about someone they know who experienced or witnessed an interesting event. The event could be recent, or it could have happened many years ago. It could be a well-renown event (such as an old soldier recounting their time in the army), something that made the local papers, or an interesting or funny thing that happened the other day to a friend of yours. It can be practically anything that people are willing to talk about, because the first step is to interview them.


The Interview

First, let the interviewee tell the story however they want to. Let them speak for perhaps three to five minutes. If the event is a long story, have them just focus on one of the more interesting parts (after they get some background information out of the way). Naturally, you should take notes as the story is told.

Break the story into five to ten key moments. What’s the essential sequence of events? Once your interviewee has confirmed this summary, ask them questions to fill in the blanks. The best questions to ask will depend a lot on the type of event and your interviewee’s involvement, but here are a few ideas (when you ask one, attach it to one of the key moments):

  • Where were you at the time? What were you doing?

  • Who was with you? What else was going on at that time?

  • Why did that happen? How did it start?

  • Why was that particularly surprising/funny/problematic/… ?

Before you try this with your class, you may want to check out this video on using an alternate method to teach the Past Perfect tense.

The Article

Now write an article about the event. The key moments you designated earlier will act as your outline. As you progress from one key moment to the next, you’ll add details using the answers to the questions you asked. The details should come just before or just after the key moment they’re linked with (when they are most relevant). If that detail involves something that happened or existed earlier, you’ll need to use the Past Perfect tense. (Watch the video for more on how to use the Past Perfect.) For example:

James had been waiting in his car for his daughter to finished her ballet lessons when he saw a lion step onto the road. The big cat had escaped the zoo just a couple hours earlier.

Once you’re finished with the article, turn it in to your teacher. If there’s time and interest, read it to the rest of your class.

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Teaching Tips & Insights

For more on Past Perfect, check out our Tenses Series. A great way to understand the Past Perfect tense in a narrative is to see how things are sometimes told a little out of order, so we’ve developed a method for teaching Past Perfect to make it easier for students to understand and remember when to use that tense, which we share with you through a short video. You can even go beyond the video with printouts, slideshows, and grammar guides, all designed to help teachers better reach their students!