EL Support Lesson

What Was the Problem?

Use this lesson to teach your students to use the correct past tense language when speaking about a story they have read. This lesson can stand alone or be used as a pre-lesson for the *Fiction Comprehension: Problem and Solution* lesson.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

Students will be able to identify the problem and solution in a fictional text.


Students will be able to describe problems in fictional texts with past tense verbs using sentence stems.

(2 minutes)
  • Ask students a series of questions about what they did this morning, last night, or earlier in the week. For example, "What did you eat for breakfast? How did you get to school? What did you have for dinner last night?"
  • Have them answer the questions with a partner, and listen for the verb forms they are using. When students correctly use the past tense form of a verb, jot it down to discuss.
  • Tell students that you asked them to tell you things they already did, which required them to use the past tense. Past tense reflects an action that has already happened or a state that already existed.
  • Explain to students that they will be listening to and reading short passages today and speaking about them in the past tense form.
(8 minutes)
  • Introduce the tiered words to students by making a list of the words on the board. Have students take out their whiteboard and whiteboard marker and write down one of the tiered words.
  • Ask students to take a moment to come up with a definition of the word on their own, making their best guess if they are not sure of the definition. Have them record it on their whiteboard.
  • Pair students and have them discuss the word they chose and what they think it means. Encourage them to refine or defend their definitions throughout the conversation.
  • Bring the class back together and use the Vocabulary Cards to share the actual definitions of the tiered words. Ask students to give a thumbs up if they were close, or a thumbs down if they needed to adjust their definition.
  • Give each student a copy of the Glossary. Have them sketch an image for any words that do not already have one and have them label the last column as Examples. Model adding an example for the first word and have students continue to work in their partnerships to add an example for the remaining words. Go over them as a class and create a teacher copy of the Glossary to serve as a reference throughout the lesson.
(8 minutes)
  • Tell students that we use past tense verbs when we tell about things that already happened. This is the appropriate way to speak when we talk about books that we read.
  • Hand out a copy of the It's Grammar Time: Past Tense Verbs worksheet to each student and go over the chart at the top. While going over each rule, ask students to think of additional words that fit the rule. Have them add the words to the Example column in the chart.
  • Think aloud and model changing the first four verbs into their past tense forms. Have students record the answers on their worksheets. Engage the class in changing the next four verbs into the past tense forms, and ask students to explain their thinking and the rule.
  • Put students into partnerships and have them complete the first section of the worksheet by changing the verbs into their past tense forms. Go over the answers as a class.
  • Tell students that they will create a sentence using at least one past tense verb. Provide prompting questions to get students thinking about a sentence topic, if necessary. For example, "Where did you live in second grade?" or "What games did you like to play as a little kid?"
  • Have students complete the remainder of the worksheet independently. Call on nonvolunteers to share their sentences and how to change the final verb into a past tense verb.
(12 minutes)
  • Explain that all fiction stories have a problem, which is a question or situation that needs to be fixed or solved. Give students examples of problems in familiar or recently read stories. Ask students to share any problems that exist in the books they are reading, or even in their own lives.
  • Pass out the Explain the Problem worksheet to each student. Tell students that they will read short passages and identify the problem. They will explain the problem using past tense verbs.
  • Read aloud the first passage. Then, think aloud and model identifying the problem in the text and complete the sentence frame. Circle the word was and point out that it is a past tense verb. Circle the rest of the past tense verbs that you use in your answer. Have students record the teacher markings on their worksheets.
  • Invite the class to help you identify the problem in the second passage on the worksheet.
  • Put students into partnerships and have them read the remaining passages and identify the problems. Go over the answers by calling on nonvolunteers to read their completed sentence frame. Ask peers whether they agree or disagree, and why. Provide sentence frames for student discussion, as needed.


  • Allow access to reference materials in home language (L1).
  • Have learners repeat instructions and key vocabulary to the teacher.
  • Provide sentence stems for students to use to share answers on the It's Grammar Time: Past Tense Verbs worksheet. For example, "To make the past tense form of the verb ____ you would ____."


  • Allow learners to utilize glossaries and dictionaries for unfamiliar words.
  • Choose advanced ELs to share their ideas first in group and class discussions.
  • Have learners repeat instructions and key vocabulary, summarizing important information for the class.
(7 minutes)
  • Distribute a copy of the Graphic Organizer Template: Frayer Model worksheet to each student. Have them write the term past tense verb in the center. Explain what information goes in each of the sections, and instruct students to complete the graphic organizer.
(3 minutes)
  • Have students share their information from their Graphic Organizer Template: Frayer Model worksheet, and create a teacher copy to keep as a reference in the classroom for future lessons.
  • Remind students that we can talk about the parts of the story, like the problem, using past tense verbs since we already read the story.

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