Using present tense correctly can be a tricky thing to teach effectively because the students need to master how and when to use several specific tenses, understand that present tense is used to describe more than just present time, and that it can also refer to the past and the future in certain situations. After a brief review of the fundamentals of the present tenses, we will provide ideas for various exercises that you can use with your students to help them master English present tense. If this is just the tip of your iceberg of teaching troubles, then check out these classes on how to teach English abroad or teaching English as a foreign language.
There are four main forms of present tense in English: Simple Present, Present Progressive, Present Perfect, and Present Perfect Progressive
Simple Present: I walk/ you walk/ he walks/ we walk/ they walk.
– Simple present tense is used to convey a) actions that happen regularly, b) general truths, c) actions that happen at a described point in the future, d) states of being that exist now.
Present Progressive: I am walking/ you are walking/ he is walking/ we are walking/ they are walking.
– Present progressive tense is used to convey a) actions taking place now, b) projects in progress that you are not doing this minute but are ongoing, c) plans for a specific time in the future.
Present Perfect: I have walked/ you have walked/ he has walked/ we have walked/ they have walked.
– Present perfect tense is used to convey a) actions that have been performed in the past but at some unspecified or inexact time
Present Perfect Progressive: I have been walking/ you have been walking/ he has been walking/ we have been walking/ they have been walking.
– Present perfect progressive tense is used to convey a) actions taking place recently, b) actions taking place regularly between some specified time in the past up until the present.
It can be hard to describe the criteria for when to use and when not to use the various tenses, especially because they convey complex relationships to time, but the students will recognize the patterns if you provide lots of examples for each of the various uses, as well as plenty of exercises to give them a chance to master the concepts, and give you a chance to identify the areas they are having difficulty with.
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Here’s a quick list with ideas for various exercises that you can use with students:
– Make worksheets with the sentences already complete except for the verb conjugation, the students will have to correctly conjugate the verb based on the context of the sentence, identify the name for the conjugation and explain why it was chosen.
o Example: I (to walk)_________ to school since I was in 5th grade (answer: have been walking, present progressive perfect, action regularly taking place between a specified time and now)
– Prepare a group of sentences that are already conjugated and have the students identify the conjugation and explain why it is the correct conjugation
o Example: He has walked along the river before. (answer: present perfect, conjugated for third person singular, conveys an action that happened in the past at some inexact time)
– Prepare a group of sentences with incorrect conjugations of present tense verbs so that the students have to identify why the conjugation is wrong, and supply the correction.
o Example: We are needing to eat soon. (answer: needing is a state of being verb (aka. non-continuous verb) so it does not work in present progressive tense, the correct conjugation is “we need to eat soon,” because simple present tense conveys that a state of being is current.)
– Prepare sentences which have everything but the subject filled in and have the students fill in the correct subject based on the contents of the sentence.
o Example: _________has been learning how to juggle (answer: he or she or a name)
– To practice having your students conjugate verb for various subject perspectives, have them get into groups and identify actions that they all like, that only one person of the group likes, activities they have all done recently and activities only one person has done recently, actions they will all perform at some point in the future or are performing now and actions that only one person is planning on performing or is performing now, as well as facts about themselves that are shared or not shared. Make a list of the various uses of each present tense and have the students come up with material to satisfy each form.
o Example: We enjoy watching tv. Richard likes reading comic books. We have studied for the test. Leslie has painted her nails. We are sleepy. Devon is hungry. We are eating dinner at home this evening. Mark is inviting friends over for dinner. etc.
– Create a questionnaire that has requires the students to answer using each of the various conjugations correctly and have them fill them out in complete sentences.
o Example: What activities have you enjoyed since childhood? What are you going to be doing at 6pm tonight? What are you doing right now? etc.
– Compose a short story selection that makes use of various present tense conjugations and have the students identify the tense and explain what relationship to time it conveys.
o Example: Sheila walks to school every day. She has been carrying all her books in her backpack, but the backpack is ripping at the shoulder strap. If it breaks, Sheila has decided to use her dad’s old briefcase instead. (answer: simple present. regularly walks/ present perfect progressive, carrying books recently/ present progressive, backpack currently breaking/ present progressive, decided in the unspecified past.
In order to teach these concepts effectively it is essential that you have a firm grasp of this grammar and have practiced explaining the various rules and common mistakes. Some of the conjugations have very particular rules about the time they refer to, so be sure that you can identify mistakes, correct them, and explain the reasoning. If its time for a grammar refresher course then check out this class on Advanced English Grammar