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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

The age factor in language learning

This post draws on a section from Chapter 5 of Jack C. Richards' splendid handbook Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015). I'm going to summarise what Richards writes about how age factors affect language learning, then add my own comments about how this might influence classroom teaching.

It's often said that children seem to learn languages so much more quickly and effectively than adults. Yet adults do have some advantages of their own, as we'll see.

In the 1970s it was theorised that children's success was down to the notion that there is a critical period for language learning (pre-puberty). Once learners pass this period changes in the brain make it harder to learn new languages. Many took this critical period hypothesis to mean that we should get children to start learning other languages at an earlier stage. (The claim is still picked up today by decision-makers arguing for the teaching of languages in primary schools.)

Unfortunately, large amounts of rese…

Dissecting a lesson: teaching an intermediate written text

This post is a beginner’s guide about how you might go about working with a written text with low-intermediate or intermediate students (Y10-11 in England). I must emphasise that this is not what you SHOULD do, just one approach based on my own experience and keeping in mind what we know about learning and language learning in particular. Experienced teachers may find it interesting to compare this sequence with what you do yourself.

You can adapt the sequence below to the class, context and your own preferred style. I’m going to assume that the text is chosen for relevance, interest and comprehensibility. The research suggests that the best texts are at the very least 90% understandable, i.e. you would need to gloss no more than 10% of the words or phrases. The text could be authentic, or more likely adapted authentic from a text book, or teacher written. It would likely be fairly short so you have time to exploit it intensively, recycling as much useful language as possible.

So here w…