ESL Writing Drill: Contrast Old and New

This 30 to 40-minute drill helps students write sentences with the correct verb tense. 

Lesson Introduction

In my English composition class, students learn two core rules about the first draft:

  • it’s always filled with mistakes
  • it’s never the last draft

We all make mistakes in the first draft, but it’s important for intermediate+ level students to minimize unnecessary errors so that there is more time to focus on bigger issues like ideas, flow and organisation.

Minimizing verb tense mistakes is one example. It’s also the focus of this writing activity.

This activity has one additional benefit: student output does not need to be read or checked by the teacher (a welcome time-saver for busy writing instructors).

Lesson Flow

Part 1 Explain Purpose of Task to Students (5)

In the first draft, it is easy and normal to make basic grammar mistakes. For example, changing the verb tense.

Verb tense error is a problem because these mistakes make it hard for the reader to understand the flow of the story  – is it now or in the past?

Later in life when you are working, the same mistakes can make your business writing hard to understand. In business, you want to write letters, reports and email messages that are clear – not confusing.

This writing exercise will help you fix verb tense mistakes.  

The lesson has two parts. First, you will work alone and then you will work with a partner.


Part 2 Watch Video (15)

Watch the video. It shows the past and present at the same time. There are many lifestyle differences.

First, make some notes about what you see. Don’t write the full sentences yet. This is a good chance to practice your note taking.

We’ll watch the video 2-3 times.

Second, write 2 sentences for 10-12 lifestyle differences. One sentence describes what people did and one sentence describes what people do. I suggest using simple past tense and simple present tense.

Remember, this is a writing drill, so we are not writing a story or essay.

Here is an example:

  • In the past, people brought their lunch to work.
  • Today, people buy lunch.



Part 3 Pair Work (10)

Work with a partner and compare sentences.

  1. Did you and your partner write about the same lifestyle differences?
  2. Did you use the same verbs?
  3. Did you use them correctly?

Part 4 Wrap Up and Samples (10)

Wrap up the lesson with a couple of students writing samples on the board.


Teacher Notes

Here is a suggested list of 16 lifestyle differences. There might be more, but this should be enough to complete the exercise in 30 minutes or so.  




7 thoughts on “ESL Writing Drill: Contrast Old and New”

  1. This is a great writing assignment reviewing past and present verb tenses. Thanks for posting it! I’ll be using it next week with my classes!

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