My 3 favorite lessons for past perfect & past modals


September 27, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

I never really liked to present grammar and then have controlled practice to force learners to use it; or to have lesson aims that aspire to cover grammar McNuggets. Hence, I’ve used the following 3 bits of lessons as triggers to past perfect and/or past modals use and I’ve always born in mind that they may not work as such and learners may not use them at all.

Nevertheless, what I’ll show below very often yielded great discussions and learners’ high participation, which were more sought after than the grammar bits per se, at least with my former adult students, so I won’t write my lesson plans here because I don’t have any, but will link some in case you need them.

I look forward to hearing from you how your lesson went.

#1   Videoclip from the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

A lesson plan can be found here.

#2 Reading text Discussing a Difficult Problem


A text about a woman who had to juggle a job promotion and her first pregnancy. I’ve used this text a lot without following the steps which are too focused on forms. But again, it’s up to you.

#3 Conversation, you and your students talking about regrets, no scripts, no pre-planned questions.

It seems soooo obvious that we might forget that it is the most authentic way to actually understand and use these grammar bites.

I usually started like:

–         Man, I did one the most stupid thing last week! You won’t believe me if I tell you!

I don’t know about your people, but mine would definitely go:

–         What? What?

And then, it’s up to you. Briefly talk about something you did and that now you regret, you can at a certain point say something like

–       If I’d known that she was already engaged to be married, I would never have told her about all the strong feelings I’ve had for her all this time.

– What would you have done if you were in my shoes?


–  Have you ever done anything so silly like that, that you deeply regret?

I know it might get too tough if you have that kind of student : ) and you think this laid-back teacher talk won’t lead anywhere, in that case you can always go a bit more TEFLish like:

“In pairs, talk to your peers about something you regret such as, something you wouldn’t have done if you had known more about.”

“Write a sentence or two about your partner’s regret”


You know the dance.


5 thoughts on “My 3 favorite lessons for past perfect & past modals

  1. Rick says:

    Hi Willy,

    Another great movie to be used when talking about past modals, also unplugged, is “Memento”. Conversation flows so naturally, and there’s no way students can talk about the movie or try to predict what’s to come without using natural language that requires past modals.



  2. Fernando says:

    Thanks for the useful hints Willy!

  3. Esmeralda says:

    Hi Willy!
    Thanks for your ideas. I used the 2nd activity and everything went pretty good. My students were interested and they could infer how to use the past modals and practiced them.

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