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Good practice activities for major tenses

This is an extract from The Language Teacher Toolkit. It's taken from our chapter on teaching grammar. These activities are partly taken from Penny Ur (1988). They all allow for repeated, interesting practice of verb structures with plenty of comprehensible input provided in the process..

Present tense 

Animal habits: for near beginners and intermediate level. Give the class the name of an animal and ask them what they know about its habits. For example, a rabbit: it lives in a hole, it eats plants and vegetables, it has lots of babies and it runs fast. You provide helpful vocabulary and verb infinitives (or present tense forms to make it easier) on the board. You can then ask students to choose other animals and produce more present tense sentences using the language you have provided.

Past (preterite) tense 

Picture stories: for intermediate level students. Sequences of pictures with times on the board provide a tried and tested way of practising simple past tenses. You can draw these simply by hand using stick figures if you wish (students often enjoy your artistic efforts). Include at least 10 pictures depicting a range of activities (a journey, holiday or day out work well). You can then do repetitive question-answer work to describe the sequence in both the first person and third person. If you have drawn single stick figures and you can subsequently add extra figures to move to plural subject pronouns (they and we).

Piling up events: for intermediate students. You give each student on a piece of paper a verb in the simple past tense (e.g. I went, I bought, I played). You then start a simple chain of events with the sentence: Yesterday I went to town and I bought a loaf of bread. The first student continues, repeating your first sentence, then adding one of their own using the verb they were given. The next student continues the chain, and so on until it becomes impossible to remember the whole sequence.

Imperfect tense 

Display pairs of pictures on the board, left and right in two columns, or pairs displayed in sequence, showing a character who used to be poor and who has become rich. On the left your character will be shown with small house, no money, a bicycle, a cap, eating a sandwich and so on. On the right the same character will be seen with a big car, big house, a top hat, drinking champagne and so on.

You describe in the imperfect tense what his life used to be like and in the present tense what their life is like now. You make clear in your speech any verb ending changes. You could either present all the imperfect tense pictures in one go, then the present tense ones, or you could present them side by side to enable students to hear the immediate contrast. You can then proceed to question-answer and repetition work, followed by showing and reading the written forms of the verbs. This an example of the inductive approach to grammar teaching.

Future or immediate future tense 

What will you do with it? For intermediate students. You have a bag containing a collection of easily recognisable objects, e.g. a cup, a stone, a plate or a box of matches. Alternatively, you use a set of picture cards or just the names of the items on large pieces of paper. You display an object/picture/word to the whole class except for one student who has to guess what it is. The guesser asks: what will you do/are you going to do with it? The other students then make their suggestions using a future tense verbs. To help them do this you can provide a list of verbs in their future forms on the board. After a period of oral practice, the students could then write down answers for each object to a time limit

Present conditional

Finishing conditional sentences: for intermediate and advanced students. You give a sentence using an if clause and the present conditional (e.g. If I went to Berlin, I would visit the Reichstag). You then model an answer. With students new to the conditional you would write up examples of conditional verbs on the board. With advanced students who have learned it before, you would not need to do this. You then simply provide more examples of unfinished sentences beginning with if clauses: If I went to France..., if I won the lottery..., if I saw a burglar in the kitchen..., if there were a fire in the kitchen... and so on. You could add to the task by getting other students to repeat in the third person what the previous student had said.

Reference: Ur, P. (1988) Grammar Practice Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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