Staying on one tense

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This is a series of three lessons aimed at building students' understanding that a piece of writing needs to be in one tense. There is a 4th grade version and a 5th grade version.

4th Grade

Lesson 1

• If you want students to have some practical application for the skills they learn this lesson, give them a quick write before hand. Do the lesson, and then they can edit it for tense mistakes after the lesson.

• Give the students the “A Series of Unfortunate Blanks” worksheet and have them do their best to fill in as many of the blanks as they can.

• As they’re working, try to find one student who has done a pretty good job of filling in the blanks in the past tense and one student who has done it pretty well in the present tense.

• Put one of the papers under the document camera and share and discuss it as a class. Ask students whether this story is in the past or present tense. If there are a few words out of the proper tense look at them and decide what they should be.

• Put the other paper under the document camera and discuss it. Does it sound right even though it’s different? Is it in the past or present tense? If there are a few words out of the proper tense look at them and decide what they should be.

• Try and lead the kids towards developing a rule that a story needs to be all in the past tense or all in the present tense. Past tense is more common but both are ok. Maybe even discuss the fact that its verbs that get changed.

• Give students time to read over their “A Series of Unfortunate Blanks” and make changes.

• Have students swap with a partner and check each others papers

• If possible have students check a current piece of writing to be sure it’s all in one tense.


Lesson 2

• Have a parent helper or bored TOSA cut out the word cards and put them into baggies. They’ll be used in pairs, so ½ a class set will do.

• Have students partner up and pass out the word bags. Ask them to sort the words into however many, and whatever groups they want.

• Discuss with the kids how they sorted them and why. Hopefully someone sorted them by tense. Have everyone in the class sort by tense, and review which ones are which.

• Then pass out the “Lunch Money” worksheet. Have students use the words from their word cards to fill in the blanks. Hopefully they’ll realize they should be using all of the words from either the past tense collection or the present tense collection.

• Have them switch papers with their partner and check each others work


Lesson 3

• Review what you’ve learned about tense. Everything needs to be in the same tense and it’s the verbs that change.

• Read the “Changing Tense” worksheet. Is it in the past or present tense? How do they know?

• Help students underline any word that makes this story in the past tense. This may lead to a discussion about the fact that words within quotation marks won’t change tense.

• Then challenge students to change this passage into the present tense. That means they’ll have to change all of the past tense words they underlined into the present tense.


FYI: the "answers" to the fill in the blanks as they appear in the actual text


5th Grade

Lesson 1


• If you want students to have some practical application for the skills they learn this lesson, give them a quick write before hand. Do the lesson, and then they can edit it for tense mistakes after the lesson.

• Give the students the “Old Yeller” worksheet and have them do their best to fill in as many of the blanks as they can. It might help if you start by explaining the premise of the book.

• As they’re working, try to find one student who has done a pretty good job of filling in the blanks in the past tense and one student who has done it pretty well in the present tense.

• Put one of the papers under the document camera and share and discuss it as a class. Ask students whether this story is in the past or present tense. If there are a few words out of the proper tense look at them and decide what they should be.

• Put the other paper under the document camera and discuss it. Does it sound right even though it’s different? Is it in the past or present tense? If there are a few words out of the proper tense look at them and decide what they should be.

• Try and lead the kids towards developing a rule that a story needs to be all in the past tense or all in the present tense. Past tense is more common but both are ok. Maybe even discuss the fact that its verbs that get changed.

• Give students time to read over their “Old Yeller” and make changes.

• Have students swap with a partner and check each others papers

• If possible have students check a current piece of writing to be sure it’s all in one tense.


Lesson 2


• Have a parent helper or bored TOSA cut out the word cards and put them into baggies. They’ll be used in pairs, so ½ a class set will do.

• Have students partner up and pass out the word bags. Ask them to sort the words into however many, and whatever groups they want.

• Discuss with the kids how they sorted them and why. Hopefully someone sorted them by tense. Have everyone in the class sort by tense, and review which ones are which.

• Then pass out the “Paul Bunyan” worksheet. Have students use the words from their word cards to fill in the blanks. Hopefully they’ll realize they should be using all of the words from either the past tense collection or the present tense collection.

• Have them switch papers with their partner and check each others work


Lesson 3


• Review what you’ve learned tense. Everything needs to be in the same tense and it’s the verbs that change.

• Read the “Something Was Wrong” worksheet. Is it in the past or present tense? How do they know?

• Help students underline any word that makes this story in the past tense. This may lead to a discussion about the fact that words within quotation marks won’t change tense.

• Then challenge students to change this passage into the present tense. That means they’ll have to change all of the past tense words they underlined into the present tense.

FYI: the "answers" to the fill in the blanks as they appear in the actual text

Originally submitted by Carolyn Grumm

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