Teaching the Simple Present Tense with the Negative

esl curriculumWhen ESL beginners learn to answer questions with positive answers they progress without too much difficulty. The negative answers, however, are more complex because the pattern is different with the use of “to be” and “to do”.

Generally the structure of an answer to a question using “to be” is straightforward, as we can explain that “not” is placed after the verb.  


Are you thirsty? No, I am not thirsty. / No, I’m not thirsty.

Is he hungry? No, he is not hungry. / No, he’s not hungry.

esl curriculum

Small groups

The problem arises when students need to form a negative sentence using a verb other than “to be”. Then they must use “to do + not” and put it in the correct tense while putting the main verb in its root form. Examples:

I do not walk. / I don’t walk.

He does not walk. / He doesn’t walk.

They do not walk. / They don’t walk.

The students find this very difficult. As this must be taught within the first few lesson of a beginner’s program, it is a problem to explain it to them when their English is so limited.

 What are some ways that this structure can be presented?

- Provide the students with an outline of the negative using “to do”.

Example: Singular

I do:  I do not = I don’t

You do: you do not = you don’t

He does: he does not = he doesn’t

She does: she does not = she doesn’t

It does: it does not = it doesn’t


We do: we do not = we don’t

You do: you do not = you don’t

They do: they do not = they don’t

ESL curriculum

Oral Questions

Whole Class Activity: Ask oral questions 



esl curriculum

Team activity

esl curriculum

Team Activity Instructions

Team Activity:


Divide the class into two teams. Have them ask each other questions that often require negative answers.

Small Group Activity – Another approach is to divide the class into groups of three or four. Give them a set of questions with the answers written in small print in a box at the side. Tell them to try to find the change in structure. In this way they can check their answers as they work together. This approach will produce a number of questions about the difference in the structure.

See Also:

ESL Curriculum
English for Chinese

Students using our curriculum learn their grammar.

About Daisy & George Stocker

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: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Successful-ESL-Ltd/322661351104350
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