Many children with language delays have difficulty using the past tense of verbs.  If they want to talk about something that already happened, they will use the present tense.  This can make it difficult to tell when a child is talking about something in the past or something they want to do right now.  You can teach past tense to your child this by using the following procedure.

Teach Past Tense Step 1: Get Your Materials Together

In order to teach past tense, you will need before and after pictures of many different events.  There must be a clear enough difference in these pictures that your child can tell what happened between the two.  You can download mine for free here:

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Teach Past Tense Step 2: What Happened?

Show your child the first picture and describe what happened.  Then, show your child the second picture and say “what happened?”  Your child should be able to describe the action that was performed, even if he doesn’t know how to use the past tense yet.  If not, you may want to go back and work on labeling actions before you work on the past tense of them.  Model the correct past tense use of the word your child just provided and tell him that since it’s something that already happened, you have to change the word.  Here’s how that might sound during the activity:

  • Parent: Look, she is running!  (Show second picture) Oh no!  What happened?
  • Child: Fall down!
  • Parent: You’re right, she fell.  Listen, that’s something that already happened, so we’re going to change it.  Instead of “fall”, we’re going to say “fell”.  Listen, she fell.
  • Child.  She fell.

Keep doing this activity until your child can appropriately use the past tense to talk about the actions that are represented.

Teach Past Tense Step 3: Recalling Past Events

Ask your child to talk about past events like birthday parties, going on a trip, or event from his day.  While he’s doing this, make sure he’s using the past tense.  If he forgets, you can use the same cues as you did in step two by telling him that it’s something that already happened so we have to change the word.  Keep doing this until your child can recall past events using the correct past tense verbs.

Teach Past Tense Step 4: Conversational Speech

Now that your child is able to use past tense when describing pictures and when recalling past events, the only thing rest is everyday conversation.  Whenever you hear your child incorrectly use the past tense in conversation, help remind her in the same way you did in the other steps.  Eventually, she’ll be able to do this on her own and not need reminders from you anymore.

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Where to Find More Info:

This guide, along with 38 others, is included in Ms. Carrie’s E-Book: Speech and Language Therapy Guide: Step-By-Step Speech Therapy Activities to Teach Speech and Language Skills At Home or In Therapy.  This guide includes detailed information on teaching various speech and language skills, including this one, along with worksheets, handouts, sample IEP goals, data collection, and video demonstrations.  For more information, click the button below:

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