Skip to main content

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


Popular posts from this blog

Tell stories


How can we make listening more enjoyable and effective for pupils? How can we turn it from a potential chore to something more memorable (and therefore more likely to stick in their long term memories)? I am of the opinion that since humans are "wired" to engage in personal listening and speaking (the expression "social brain" has been used in this context), they may be more interested and attentive when the message comes from a real person rather than a disembodied audio source. (This may or may not be relevant, but research has been carried out which demonstrates that babies pick up phonological patterns better when they listen to a caregiver rather than listen to a tape or watch a video - see here for summaries of research into this area by Patricia Kuhl.)

One easy way to make listening stimulating for pupils is to tell them easy stories in the target language. I was reminded of this while reading Penny Ur's book 100 Teaching Tips (reviewed here

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…