Teaching the Present Simple

If you are teaching the present simple, or reviewing it, this page should have something for you. Whenever I teach a tense, I think about how that tense is used in English. Then I set up activities which give students practice in a way close to the natural usage.

I also give a short formal explanation - apart from when teaching children English - as some students find it useful, and many expect it. However, a formal explanation is a small part of my grammar class. As my students don't have a lot of opportunity to practice speaking English outside of the class, I try to give my students as much chance to practice, in this case the present simple, inside the classroom. Here are some ideas on how I would approach teaching the present simple.



Introduction to the Present Simple

As the tense is used to talk about habits, routines, likes and dislikes, I would begin a class teaching the present simple with some questions. For example: "How often do you....?" "Do you usually....?" "What do you do after you arrive at work?"

The questions could simply be written on the board (with children I would normally do this), or you could prepare a handout with questions on habits, daily routines etc.

Have the students ask you some of the questions to check their pronunciation, and to allow them to listen to you model a few of the answers. Give the type of answers you hope your students to give. Depending on their level, these answers could be very simple sentences in the present simple, or they could be more expanded, conversational answers.

Then I would try a few open pairs across the classroom, to make sure they understand, and to give the class more opportunity to listen. I would ask some of the better students to ask each other for everyone to hear. Then I would test it on a pair of weaker or inattentive students - and help them if necessary.Then I would put the class in closed pairs, and walk around the class helping where needed. Finally, I would ask some of the students for feedback. "Maria, what does Tim usually do?" etc.

Only after doing an activity like this would I introduce, or review, the present simple (also known as the simple present).


Teaching the Present Simple - Formal Presentation

If I was teaching the present simple to children I wouldn't give any formal presentation, although I would tell the students that the present tense is used to describe things you usually, always or never do. I think that is as far as it's necessary or useful to go when teaching children. They are quite good at picking it up themselves if given enough practice listening to and using the language.

Before launching into a presentation/review of the present simple tense, I would ask my student what tense they had been using in the first part of the English lesson. I think it's fine to use whatever language your students speak for this - if they wouldn't understand the question in English.

Then I would use the board to give the structure and usage. As many books have the structure of verb tenses, I would probably only give some sentences, but check that the students knew the tense correctly.

I would explain that the present simple tense (sometimes known as the simple present) like many verb tenses in English can refer to more than its name suggests. It refers to things which are always or usually true and to repeated actions


Usage of the Present Simple

The present simple is used:

  • To talk about things which are always or usually true
  • "I drink five or six cups of tea a day
  • "God lives."
  • "The Earth orbits the sun."
  • "I like reading."
  • "Water freezes at zero degrees celsius
  • To give instructions or commands
  • "Put the coffee in the cupboard."
  • "Turn left at the corner."
  • "Come here."
  • In narrative (sometimes):
  • "The President meets with his advisors." This usage of the present simple is common in newspapers.
  • "He tackles Beck, takes the ball and passes it to Todd." This usage of the present simple is common in sports commentaries when the action is taking place very quickly.
  • To describe senses and feelings
  • "I see you."
  • "I feel good." The present simple is used here to describe more sudden feelings. The present continuous would be used to describe a state that continues over time.

If you want to brush up on your own grammar, I recommend considering some of the products available on diagramming sentences

A final point. Don't labor formal presentations of grammar. Be concise and to the point. I added more examples above than I would actually use in a class. A formal presentation will please some students, but most of the learning actually comes when the students actively listen and speak in the interesting activities you prepare for their class.


ESL Activities for Teaching the Present Simple Tense

Any activities related to habits, hobbies, likes/dislikes or general routines will work here. I've written about a great many relevant ESL activities on this website. Here are the links..

ESL Speaking Acitivities On this page I give many examples of how to use questions and answers, guessing games, talking about the kinds of music you like...

Games to Teach English Grammar also has some ESL activities which are relevant to teaching the present simple.

Teaching Tenses - the present simple is a simple lesson plan I gave a reader on how to teach the simple present.

To gain a clearer understanding of English grammar try diagramming sentences



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