Adding cue information in parentheses, like the proper pronoun, or the tense you want, is one way.  You’re going to see better results if you make your sentences substantially more complex.

These all look the same: 

I eat.

I ate [once].

I ate [multiple times].

I will eat.

But these all look different:

– Whenever I go to Mexican food restaurants, I eat too much.

– I ate sushi in Tokyo once, and it was amazing.

– I ate so much pizza in Italy back in 2008.

– When I go to Barcelona next year, I will eat at 3-4 tapas restaurants every single evening.

If you’re at the stage you’re handling verb conjugations, then you’re at a stage you can take in information as complex as these sentences. It’s going to serve you much better, because the added complexity is part of the definitions of these tenses.
“Past Tense” (or worse, “pretérito”) is pretty abstract and almost meaningless.
“I ate sushi in Tokyo once, and it was amazing.” is extremely concrete, meaningful and can be personal.
Stories like that make grammar a lot more applicable because, the next time you try and talk about eating in the past, you should be able to think “What’s another time I ate in the past?” – it should bring back the Tokyo example (or whatever example you end up using).

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