Suggestions and Activities for Teaching Verb Tenses

The order followed for teaching verb tenses can make the structure of the English Language easier for the students to understand. Whereas pre-teen and early teen children learn a language by listening and repeating what they hear, without any need to think about grammar, this facility seems to fade as everyone gets older. The older a student is the more he or she will want to analyze the structure or learn using rules. Unfortunately many rules for the English language have exceptions – sometimes many exceptions. This article suggests a logical sequence for introducing tenses to beginners and supplies some sample activities.

If a program starts by teaching the simple present tense only, and the students are never given an activity or exercise that includes another tense, then the present tense will become clear to them in spite of the irregular conjugation of some of the verbs. When an irregular verb such as “to be” is used in present tense sentences in many different types of exercises and activities, the students will become fluent with its use.

Once they are comfortable with the simple present tense, they will be ready for the simple past tense. Once again, if the past tense introduction is followed by many oral activities and written exercises, the students will be ready for the present progressive and the past progressive tenses.

What Kind of Activities Should Follow the Introduction of a New Tense?

Oral Questions

ORAL QUESTIONS that the teacher asks the whole class, are the best way to begin. They allow the teacher to see where the students are having difficulty and to provide the help they need. It’s usual for many of the students to have the same problem.

SMALL GROUPS allow students to ask each other the questions provided and help one another with the answers. It also gives them a time to practice speaking English.

ROLE-PLAYS help the students to move into real life situations. These may be about making introductions or perhaps ordering in a restaurant. Role-plays can be carefully written using a controlled number of tenses.

Try the activities below with your Beginners
Read the dialogue with your teacher.
Find a partner.
Role-play it.
Change roles.

NARRATOR: Jane meets her friend Harry.

JANE: Hi, Harry. How are you?

HARRY: Hi, Jane. I’m not so good.
This is a bad week.
How are you doing?

JANE: Just great! Are you sick?

HARRY: Yes, I’m at home from school today.

JANE: You can have my notebook.

HARRY: Thanks Jane.

Divide into small groups and ask each other these questions.
Check the small print for your answers.

1. Is Jane a girl?

2. Is Harry a girl?

3. How is Harry?

4. Who is at home from school?

5. What does Jane give to Harry?

6. What does Harry say?

1. Yes, Jane is a girl.
2. No, Harry isn’t a girl. / Harry is a boy.
3. Harry is sick.
4. Harry is at home from school.
5. She gives Harry a notebook.
6. He says, “Thanks Jane.”

The students are to move around the classroom asking and answering these questions. They can check for some possible answers.

How are you?

How are you doing?

How are things going?

Things are going well.
I’m fine, thanks.
I’m not so good.
I’m so-so.
I’m not doing very well.
I’m great!

The secret when teaching verb tenses is to provide students with an interesting variety of  relevant exercises, games and activities. They need to have many opportunities to practice speaking in sentences, using ONLY the tenses that have been introduced.

See Also:

ESL Curriculum

Learning English with Laughter

Students using our curriculum learn their grammar.

About brian_mu8dft39

Successful ESL was created out of our first company, Learning English With Laughter which began in 1990 when we, George and Daisy Stocker, traveled to the historic city of Karlovy Vary in Czechoslovakia, to teach English in a private language school. Communism was over and the people were embarking along the road to democracy. There were hundreds of students eager to learn the English Language, but suitable textbooks were non-existent. Consequently, we wrote as we taught, making countless revisions as we listened to the students' special needs. Upon returning to our home in Victoria, Canada, we have adapted the Teen-adult Series to meet the cultural needs of students in a number of different countries. A variety of adaptations have been achieved through contacts with many countries. Thousands of students have encouraged us to use a conversational approach to English that stresses communication in a variety of everyday situations. See our facebook page:
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