christmas reading exerciseTo bring in Christmas, I’ve prepared a themed reading exercise of the sort seen in the most horrible exams. The short story below (a harrowing tale of chores and presents) has lots of incomplete sentences. The verbs needed are all in brackets next to the gaps, but the form required is up to you. It is a past tense story, but it has a bit of variety in exactly what structures you will need – so don’t assume that just because it is a child’s tale it’s easy. In particular this will practice use of the past perfect. Can you help Wendy get her presents? The answers (with notes for consideration) are below


Wendy was excited. Christmas _________ (1. to come), and she _________ (2. to be) a good girl all year, so she expected many splendid gifts from Santa. Two months earlier, she _________ (3. to write) to him to describe all the toys and clothes and other important things that she would like. Yes, it _________ (4. to be) a very long list, but everyone _________ (5. to know) how magical Santa was so there should not be a problem.

Wendy _________ (6. to clean, not) the bathroom, though. Her dad had asked her to clean it, again and again, but it was disgusting in there, and it _________ (7. to get, always) messy again anyway. She never _________ (8. to like) cleaning the bathroom, and as Christmas approached they received an especially large number of guests. It was getting worse and worse.

On Christmas Eve, Wendy’s dad _________ (9. to visit) the bathroom and screamed.

“Something _________ (10. to move) in there!” he said, pointing at a pile of dirty rags. Wendy saw it, too.

“Daddy, daddy, get rid of it, please!” she _________ (11. to beg). But her father was too afraid.

Together, they went to Wendy’s mum, and pleaded with her to deal with the monster in the bathroom. She tutted at them. So silly. But when she got to the bathroom, and saw the state of the mess, and saw something move, she _________ (12. to scream) too.

She slammed the door shut and told her family, “Whatever it is, we must _________ (12. to go, not) in there.”

Everyone was too afraid to disagree. So they sealed the bathroom door and ignored the problem.

On Christmas morning, Wendy _________ (13. to rush) down the stairs and excitedly clambered under the glittering Christmas tree. The room was strangely empty, though. No stocking filled with treats, and only a handful of wrapped boxes – all labelled for mum and dad. Where _________ (14. to be) her presents?

“Well,” her father told her, “Look, Santa _________ (15. to leave) a note. It _________ (16. to say) that as you _________ (17. to complete, not) your chores, your presents _________ (18. to be) left in the bathroom. If you want to get them, you must clean up the mess.”

Wendy _________ (19. to have) no choice. If Santa _________  (20. to say) it, it had to be done.

And so she braced herself and determined to clean that bathroom. She put on gloves, took up a broom and a mop and a bucket of disinfectant and _________ (21. to charge) into the mess. It looked awful. It _________ (22. to smell) foul. It _________ (23. to feel) weird. But the mess had to go.

After a hard morning’s work, Wendy stepped back and marvelled at what she _________ (24. to do). The bathroom was glistening clean, beautiful and empty once more. And whatever had moved in there before was gone. But she realised, with the room now bare, there were no presents in there. _________  (25. to lie, Santa) ?

Wendy went back downstairs to demand an answer from her parents, ready to shout and fight and scream. She stormed into the living room, broom raised above her head, and _________ (26. to freeze). There, under the tree, was a landscape of presents. Boxes of all shapes and size, wrapped in paper of every colour. Big presents, small presents, bows, bags; all she could dream of.

She _________ (27. to be) a good girl, after all.


  1. was coming – future in the past
  2. had been – past perfect because her goodness for the year was complete before this story
  3. had written – past perfect, it happened before these events
  4. was – simple past
  5. knows – could be past simple, as a past rule, but this sentence frames it in the present tense
  6. had not cleaned
  7. was always getting (or always got, but the past continuous, as an emphatic process, is stronger)
  8. liked
  9. visited
  10. is moving or moved
  11. begged
  12. screamed
  13. rushed
  14. were
  15. has left (demonstrating it is here now, although simply left could also be used)
  16. says
  17. did not complete (have not completed would be possible, but this action has a consequence, so it is finished and will not added to)
  18. have been (were is also possible, but they are likely to still be there, making present perfect more appropriate)
  19. had
  20. had said
  21. charged
  22. smelt
  23. felt
  24. had done
  25. Did Santa lie? (as one event) or Had Santa lied? (on this occasion)
  26. froze
  27. had been (referring to her actions) or was (referring to her state)

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