Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, K-3

In the BrainPOP ELL movie, Butterfly Life Cycle (L2U6L2), Ben and Moby present their research project on the life cycle of the butterfly to their class, describing what happened at each stage using the past simple and past progressive. In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades K-8, students demonstrate their understanding of both the past simple and past progressive tenses, and differentiate between them, as they review the past tense.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Determine whether a past action takes the past simple or past progressive tense.
  2. Write sentences in the past simple and past progressive tenses to describe an image.
  3. Take notes about observations, and then use the notes to recount activities they observed.



Past simple, past progressive


For Activity 1, What Did You See?, write actions for students to act out on index cards. Write two actions on each card.
Possible actions: Hang up your coat. / Hold a book upside down and read it.
Talk to your partner. / Ignore your partner.
Make a pizza. / Make a sandwich.
Eat an apple. / Drink a cup of tea.
Touch your toes. / Touch your head.
Put on a sweater. / Take off a sweater.

For Activity 3, Action Recap, make copies of the At the Park Action Image.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. What Did You See? To practice using the past simple and past progressive, invite two volunteers to the front of the class. Give them a card with two different actions to act out as the rest of the class observes (See Preparation). When the volunteers sit down, ask the class:
    1. What did [name of student A] do?
    2. What did [name of student B] do?
    3. What was [student A] doing while [student B] was _______?
  2. It Wasn't Me. To practice using the past progressive for a specific time in the past, write this prompt on the board:
    It wasn’t me! I was ___________________.
    Then tell students you were in the park yesterday afternoon, and you saw someone who was littering. Ask students to answer the following question by completing the above prompt:
    Was that you I saw at the park yesterday? What were you doing yesterday afternoon? Students might respond, It wasn’t me! I was eating dinner at home.
  3. Action Recap. Project the At the Park Action Image or distribute a copy to each student. Tell students that you'll give them one minute to look at the image and try to remember what was happening. After a minute, shut off the image or have students turn them over on their desks. Now have them write as many sentences as they can that describe the actions in the picture, using the past progressive. For example: Ben was climbing the tree. A little boy was running. When they have finished, ask students to read one sentence each, until they have mentioned all the sentences they wrote. Invite a volunteer to write the sentences on the board as they are read. Then, project the image again, for students to add actions that they missed. At this time, ask students for sentences with two actions that were happening at the same time. For example: Ed was playing the bass while Nikki was reading.
  4. Observations. Have students observe someone during recess or lunch. Alternatively, students can watch a family member at home. Have them take notes on what they see. When they return to the classroom, they will use the past progressive to describe the actions they observed.