Teaching Tenses - The Present Simple

by Zahra

Question: How can I teach the simple present tense to my EFL learners?

Answer: I thought it would be most useful to give you a general lesson plan of how I would approach this kind of class. You didn't mention the level of your students, or whether you teach children or adults.

I'll take a guess and assume you are teaching young adults who already speak a little English, but I'll try to include ideas for children as well. Actually the basic teaching principles are the same, but they just need to be applied a little differently. The type of activities are also similar, but likewise, need some adaptation.

Warmer - My Typical Day
This is a simple listening activity. I would tell my students that I am about to tell them about a typical day in my life, but that there are a couple of lies included. I would then tell them what I usually do. Most of it would be true, but I would include a couple of lies. With children - and maybe adults too - I would make the lies funny or unusual in some way. This isn't necessary, but it's more fun.

I would have the students ask me questions about my typical day. If necessary I'd help them, perhaps I would ask them about their routines. Then I'd have the students in pairs ask their partners about their daily habits.

After a few minutes I'd have the pairs tell the rest of the class about their partners typical day, including a lie - for fun.

Writing (optional)
I may then have students write about a day in their life. They could read it out aloud after. This kind of activity I'm more likely to use when teaching children, but not only with children.

Using the Coursebook
I would use the coursebook. If the coursebook is good, I'd follow some of its suggestions, and allow the students to do some of the exercises there. This could take up half the class. If the coursebook is bad (but you are expected or required to use it anyway) I'd have the students open the required page. Then we would read it together quickly. Perhaps going through the exercises. I'd explain to the students that we have already practiced the grammar (present simple tense) and didn't need to repeat it in the book.

Running Dictation (for children)
Again, this is an optional writing activity. If the students needed to learn listening and writing I would do a short dictation. With children I'd play a game-like dictation. Perhaps a running dictation, with 2 pieces of paper stuck to the walls at the back of the classroom. Two teams would have to run between the paper and the board, copying the short text (written in the present simple tense) onto the board. If you do this, divide the teams into readers, runners (carrying the message) and writer who must stand by the board. Change roles during the activity.

Dictogloss (for adults)
Adults may benefit from a very short grammar dictation or dictogloss. See the description of this near the bottom of this page: ESL Activities

Guessing Games
A guessing game can be fun and give more practice. See my Top 10 TEFL Games article - the 20 Questions Guessing Game for a description of this. Or you could try a describing game. Divide the class into two teams and place a chair at the front of the classroom facing the students. A student from one team sits there with back to the board. Then write a word on the board. The student's team describes the word, with your help. "It's a noun/animal/job," etc. "It can/has/eats/can be seen in..." etc. If the students are weak write some examples of how to describe on one side of the board. The 'guesser' must guess the word in 60 seconds. The scoring is the amount of seconds a student needs to guess the word. The lower the score the better.

These are just some ideas for teaching the present simple tense. I wouldn't necessarily do all of the activities. So much would depend on the class: their level, ages and particular needs. There are other ideas in my ESL Activities and ESL Games sections. You may well want or be expected to teach the rules of the present simple. I think that a formal grammar presentation has its place, but it's place should be quite a small one. Personally I'd do this about a third of the way through the class, not at the beginning, as I'd want the students to play with the present simple first. I wouldn't do it at the end when they may be feeling tired either. Remember that the best way for true learning to take place is to create enjoyable activities for your students to become involved in. Enjoy your classes.

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