The aim of this exercise is to help students describe a sequence of events in the past and describe a process using the present simple.

134098 Three college students sitting an exam in a classroom writing.

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The exercise also helps students practise the language that is involved in such tasks, i.e. the passive, the present simple and connectors of sequence. The exercise may be used with a range of levels.

The materials consist of:

  • a timeline showing an event that took place in the past.
  • a text without verbs and a verb list for insertion in the correct place for weaker students
  • a text for cutting up
  • a Key
  • an information-gap exercise where students practise the language of process orally in preparation for writing
  • a bank of simple connectors relating to sequence 

Practice stage

Each item in the sequence of materials may be used on its own or as part of one sequence.

  • Divide the students into pairs or groups of three and give them each a copy of the timeline. Tell them they have 5-10 minutes depending on the level of the class to describe orally the sequence of events that  took place on the timeline.
  • You may want to give them an example depending on the level of the class. Encourage them to use synonyms of the words in the timeline where possible and turn nouns into verbs. At this stage, you may want to point out the tense (simple past) and ask them to use the passive.
  • Encourage the students not to write. Tell them they will have an opportunity to do so in a minute.
  • Check the description orally with the class.
  • Give the students in pairs/groups the exercise without the verbs and the verb list. With more advanced students, ask them to cover the verb list and then go through the text and decide where the verbs are missing. Then, using the timeline ask them to write the verbs in the correct place. With weaker students, ask them to go through the text and insert the verbs from the list of verbs in the correct place.
  • Using the version for cutting up, you may also ask the students to assemble the text.
  • Once the pairs/groups have the completed text you can show them the Key and ask them to check their answers or give them a copy of the Key.

Productive stage

The material may be then used for a productive exercise by asking the students to look at the list of verbs for the timeline. Using only the timeline and the verbs in sequence, ask them to write a description of the sequence of events. You may then want to focus on the connectors.

Information gap exercise

Practice stage

  • Before you do the information gap exercise, point out to the class the tense of the first exercise, the passive and the connectors.  Ask them to explain to you why the past tense was used. Also look at the use of  the passive and explain the connectors.
  • Divide the class into pairs and give each pair a copy of the timeline for partner A.
  • Tell the students that this a timeline showing the process that a builder uses when building a block of flats.
  • Ask the students what tense you will use to describe the sequence, what connectors and whether you can use the active or passive or a combination of both. You can ask them what connectors they can use besides then/next, etc for example, once, when, before, etc.
  • Give each pair a copy of gapped timeline for Partner B. Ask them to fill in the information with Partner B asking questions. Tell Partner B to write the answer on a piece of paper. The students can then swap to give each of the pair a chance to ask questions.
  • How much help you give re the questions will depend on the class. For weaker students you may want to write some questions on the board, e.g. what happens after/before/when etc

Productive stage

At the next stage, check the students can describe the text orally using a mixture of active and passive, a range of synonyms, and connectors using the bank of connecting words.

You can ask the students in pairs/groups/individually to describe the process. How much help you give may depend on the level.

You may also want to do a class dictation exercise where the class as a whole writes down the text as you elicit it. As you do this, the students can help each other with spelling. This helps students to listen intently and concentrate. If you do this process, do not be tempted to write anything on the board. If you are asked about spelling, spell it orally or ask one of the students to do it. Take in the students' texts for checking.


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