Yes, indeed, it is that time of year again for our students to begin learning those pesky English irregular verbs. Each and every year, our students ask us if there is a magic formula for learning them, and as we know as ESL professionals, there isn't. While trying to memorize them along with drilling in grammar books certainly can be effective to a point, it definitely doesn't get young teenage learners engaged in the process. Therefore, last year my colleague and I came up with a different strategy that combines a classical hands-on approach with the support of technology, and it seems to have had to lead to a more positive learning environment in the classroom when it comes to teaching irregular verbs.
While walking through one of the several book fairs that our school holds each year, we stumbled upon these magnificent little verb wheels that have 92 of the most-commonly used irregular verbs in English, as pictured above. As you turn the wheel to the verbs on the outside, several forms of each irregular verb appear in the small boxes in the middle, including the past simple (V2) and past participle (V3) forms. We thought that this would provide the students a different, more hands-on method of learning the irregular verbs, instead of just copying them down from a chart in the grammar book. Thus, we bought a set for the whole class to use. We then added the use of flashcards and daily online quizzes on our class PLN, Edmodo, in a three-step method that will be explained below. (If you are not familiar with Edmodo, click on this link to read a introductory post to the educational website.)
After introducing the Past Simple Tense to our students, and doing some basic sentence building on the board as a class, we pass out the verb wheels. As there are 96 irregular verbs on the wheels, we decided to make it a week-long activity, so that the students wouldn't be overwhelmed. Therefore, the students are responsible for learning 20 verbs a day for the first four days, leaving only 12 verbs for the final day.
The first step is for the students to make flashcards for the first 20 irregular verbs by using the verb wheels. On the front of the flashcard, they write down two verbs in the basic (V1) form. We have them write two verbs per card just to save space. Then, on the backside, they write down the past simple form (V2) of the verb, as well as a sentence using that particular verb. In order to save class time, we have the students write out their sentences at home each night.
The following day in class, just before having the students work on the next set of flashcards, we give them four to five minutes to work with a friend on the verbs from the previous day. They use their flashcards to test each other verbally. While walking around the room, we also join in the fun by testing them on the spot to see if they made their flashcards properly.
Finally, after the students have made their flashcards and practiced with a friend, we then assign short online quizzes each day on our class PLN, Edmodo, based on the irregular verbs that were assigned the previous day. Edmodo allows its users to create online quizzes in four different formats: True / False; Multiple Choice; Fill-in-the-blank; and Short Answer. For these quizzes, we chose to use 'Fill-in-the-blank'. When the quiz is opened, the students see the basic form (V1) of the verb, and they simply have to type in the past simple form (V2) in the box given. However, if the verb is spelled incorrectly, it will be counted as a wrong answer. Therefore, it forces the students to double-check to make sure that they have spelled the verb correctly before submitting the quiz. If you would like to learn more about how to make an Edmodo quiz, please watch the video below.
In all honesty, this three-step method has been quite successful for us and most of our students for the past two years. The combination of making flashcards with the verb wheels, followed by pair work and formative assessments on Edmodo, keeps the students more engaged than by only using classical methods. In addition, by only giving a short amount of class time for making the flashcards, it gives the students the responsibility of going home each night and writing sentences with the newly-learned irregular verbs, as well as practicing with their flashcards to help them remember the past simple forms.