Teaching "Used to" to ESL students
Here's a way to introduce the structure "used to" to your ESL
1 Find or draw on the board a picture of someone who looks like
they could have just won some money. A photo from a magazine of
someone driving an expensive car, or sitting in a luxurious
room, for example, would work well. Give the person a name, and
set the scene for your students of someone who has just won the
lottery, or elicit it from them ("Why is Jane driving an
expensive car?"; "How did she afford her expensive clothes?"
2 Ask students about Jane's life after winning the lottery.
Depending on the imagination of your students, you might have to
prompt them a little ("Where does she live?"; "Does she have a
job?"; "Is she happy?"; "Where does she go on holiday?" etc.)
Then ask students to describe how Jane's life was different
before winning the lottery ("Where did she live?"; "Was she
happy?"; "What was her job?") After you have built up some facts
about Jane's life before and after her lottery win, put your
picture to one side and tell them to remember Jane because you
will be returning to her later in the class.
3 Next, as a group, brainstorm important inventions in history.
Take one suggestion (it doesn't matter which one, as this is
just an example to model the exercise which will follow). Elicit
what life was like before this invention, and how life changed
with the invention. For example: "The internet. Before the
internet, most people wrote letters, but now most people send
4 Now put students into pairs and have them think of three more
important inventions, what life was like before the invention
and how life has changed with it. When they have done this, have
each pair share one of their ideas with the class, but this time
introduce "used to" by rephrasing their ideas as they give
feedback. For example:
Student: "The aeroplane. Before the aeroplane, people travelled
long distances by ship. Now they fly."
Teacher: "Good! So, people used to travel long distances by
ship, but now they fly."
5 After the first round of feedback, students will be starting
to catch on, so now do a second round, asking students to use
the new structure with their second invention. They will
probably still need some prompting, but by the third round of
feedback, using their third invention, they should be producing
"used to" without too much help.
6 Use one or two of the students' ideas to highlight the written
form of the structure on the board. Don't forget the question
and negative forms!
7 Now it's time to go back to your picture of Jane. Ask the
students if they remember Jane and why she is driving her
expensive car. Then ask them once again to tell you about her
life before and after winning the lottery, this time using "used
to". ("She used to live in a small flat, but now she has a
mansion"; "She used to work, but now she doesn't"). Be sure to
give students plenty of practice with the question and negative
forms as well. You could have one student ask another a question
about Jane's old life, and ask some questions yourself that
require a negative response.
8 For further controlled communicative practice of "used to",
you could devise a questionnaire about students' childhood for
students to use in pairs. This could contain some prompts, such
as "go to school"; "live". One student in each pair must then
form a question ("Where did you use to live?") and the other
must answer ("I used to live in Paris").
And there you have it, an easy way to introduce "used to" to
your ESL students.