Some verbs do not follow the “- ed” rule when they are used in the past tense. These are known as irregular past tense verbs. These verbs can be very hard for a child to learn to use correctly and some need to be repeated MANY times before a child is fluent with them, others are easier to learn because they arise naturally e.g. went, fell down! Once a child understands that some verbs behave differently when you are talking about what has happened then it can help to keep a list of the particular words that they are finding hard so that you can help the child to practise them. Games with picture cards or objects and real life activities can both be beneficial.
It is difficult to learn irregular verbs. Do not try to work on too many at once. Focus on one verb at a time to begin with.
When playing the games begin by playing them in a way which allows you to model the verb for the child, eg. the child plays the instrument in the instrument game.
Give the child plenty of opportunity to hear the irregular verb form in your own speech, not only during the games, but also at other times if possible. Focusing on one verb at a time will help you to remember it during the day.
It can be very confusing for a child if you muddle regular (-ed) and irregular verbs. If possible do not do this until the child is confident in their use of the irregular verb.
Once a child is confident then you can play games which use several verbs and see if they can still manage to use them correctly.
The following ideas can be adapted depending on the words you need to work on.
1. Role Play. This can be a great way to model and practise verbs. Decide which verbs you want to work on and then plan the game around them. For example:
A restaurant scene.This can be a fun way to practise “ate”, “drank”, “chose” Look at the menu together and choose different items. Pretend to eat or drink them and then either have a chat about what you have done, or pretend to phone a friend or parent. If the child needs feedback and gentle help using the correct verb form then perhaps you could pretend to be the friend on the end of the phone. This would allow you to sound confused and directly model the words the child is finding hard.
Shopping – Setting up a pretend shop can allow you to model and practise verbs such as “saw, bought, chose, found etc.
2. Drawing activities. This allows you to ask “What did you draw? … “I drew…”
3. Robber Game… Children take it in turns to be the robber or the policeman. The robber takes some items from a pretend shop. The policeman catches him and the robber has to reveal what s/he took “I took the watch”. The means by which the policeman catches the robber may be varied, its up to you have exuberant you want the children to get!
4. What’s gone? This is based on the traditional Kim’s Memory Game. 9-10 items are placed on a tray, 2-3 items are removed secretly. The child has to identify what was taken. “You took the ball, car and pen.”
5. Instruments. A set of instruments are placed behind a screen. The child must listen and identify what you did no matter how quietly it was done. “You shookthe tambourine, the maracas, the bells etc.” This can then be extended. “You rang the bell. You shook the maracas. You hit the drum. You blew the whistle.”
6. Secret changes. Put some objects in a tray and do something to one of them without the child seeing. The child has to tell you what you have done. “You put the pencil in the box.” “You hid the fish under the table.” “You broke the unifix”
7. Puppets and small figures. Act out a story. You can then talk about what happened or make the characters tell each other what they have done, eg. “I fell over. “I went down the slide” “I caught a big fish.”
8. Retelling stories. Ask the child to retell the story from their reading book.
9. Talking about what you have just done. Some activities are full of irregular verbs. “You caught it. You tied your laces.”
10. I went shopping and I bought…. You can change the scenario depending on the verbs you are practising, eg. I sat at the Bus Stop and I saw…. I went fishing and I caught….. I had fun in PE and I threw…..
Some children will find it hard to remember a list of items, so make sure that you have objects or pictures available so that they are able to focus on practising the verb and not worrying about what they have to remember. If you want to give the child extra practise with saying the verb, make saying the person’s name part of the game, eg. “We went to the zoo and Mrs Brown saw an elephant, Emma saw a giraffe etc..
11. Keeping a diary. Try to write down something for each day so that the child can talk about it with others. “I went swimming. I swam really well. I had fun”
Some Early Irregular Verbs:
These are just some of the more common irregular verbs. When trying to decide what to work on with a child it is important to focus on what will be meaningful and useful to them. Think about what the child likes to talk about or what might be coming up in school or at home. This will help them to learn and generalise their new skill. Some words follow the same rule when being used in the past tense, eg. fly - flew, blow -blew. Once the child understands that some words are different when talking about the past, try to work on words which use the same rule at the same time.