How to Teach Verb Tenses

Verb tenses challenge most English language learners. When studied in isolation, a given verb tense is clearly understood, but when put into actual use, one verb tense is easily confused with others. This is because at the discourse level we do not limit our speech to a single verb tense.

It makes sense then to teach lessons that focus on more than one verb tense at a time. I do agree with traditional textbook presentations that initially teach a single verb tense in a given unit; however, in later stages of language learning the student will benefit from comparing and contrasting verb tenses. In fact, some grammar textbook series offer lessons on multiple verb tenses as early as the intermediate level (e.g., Focus on Grammar).

Whether the focus of a lesson is on one or several verb tenses, the study and practice of the tenses should be done in a meaningful context. I also believe that there can be some overlap of study and practice; they aren’t always separate events of a lesson. Practice is a form of study. It’s not necessary to hold off exercises and activities until all important points are explained by the teacher. Chances are that such a thorough presentation would overload students with information and render any activity ineffective. I like to make a concise presentation and then get the students to jump into practice. Engaging in a meaningful activity can fill in any gaps, correct misunderstandings, and build upon what was learned earlier from the teacher’s presentation.

In the next few entries, I’ll share activities for verb tenses. They are open exercises that allow for meaningful communication in a fun way.

Explore posts in the same categories: Grammar, Methodology

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8 Comments on “How to Teach Verb Tenses”


  1. Hi Jennifer.
    It’s a great pleasure to visit your blog and read such interesting articles that help us, teachers, know more about the English teaching industry.

    Here in Bolivia, the area of English language teaching is growing at a very slow pace but is growing due to the need people have on learning English.

    My name is Jonny Algarañaz. I am a 32 year-old non-native English speaking teacher here in my town of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the largest city in Bolivia.

    Let me tell you that I really enjoy your site as well as your blog and videos. They help me a lot with my English as well as to keep it up dated.

    ESL/EFL web sites, videos and blogs are my only tools for improving both my English and my teaching skills since here in my town it’s difficult to find someone whom to practice your spoken English with or discuss teaching issues.

    I hope you keep on teaching more lessons and posting more videos. You are doing a fantastic job.
    I wonder if I can suggest topics for future videos or lessons. Take care!

    Jonny


  2. Hi Jennifer.
    It’s a great pleasure to visit your blog and read such interesting articles that help us, teachers, know more about the English teaching industry.

    Here in Bolivia, the area of English language teaching is growing at a very slow pace but is growing due to the need people have on learning English.

    My name is Jonny Algarañaz. I am a 32 year-old non-native English speaking teacher here in my town of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the largest city in Bolivia.

    Let me tell you that I really enjoy your site as well as your blog and videos. They help me a lot with my English as well as to keep it up dated.

    ESL/EFL web sites, videos and blogs are my only tools for improving both my English and my teaching skills since here in my town it’s difficult to find someone whom to practice your spoken English with or discuss teaching issues.

    I hope you keep on teaching more lessons and posting more videos. You are doing a fantastic job.
    I wonder if I can suggest topics for future videos or lessons. Take care!

    Jonny

  3. abet nego Says:

    hi jenn,,,
    it’s great pleasure to visit ur’blog,,,im student in university still make to proposal title : The ability of student to understanding simple future tense,,, i hope,any help me n im haedache make to it..
    thank you.

    • englishwithjennifer Says:

      Hello! Are you asking for an explanation of the simple future tense? Or are you asking about how teachers can present this tense?

  4. lounes bezouh Says:

    hello my dear teacher
    i hope you are doing well! i need your help if possible! i’m going to teach English language for X company stuff, i want to focus on grammar since it’s the skeletal of any language! i need some tips, hints and advice!
    thanks a lot!

    • englishwithjennifer Says:

      Are you able to make use of textbook material? Or will you be limited to what’s available online and what you create yourself?
      Look at my entries that recommend having students set goals. You’ll have a better idea of how to tailor the material you find once you know what their goals are. Business English can include everything from making presentations to writing reports to handling customer complaints. You need to know what professional challenges they must meet to design your lessons.

  5. Bilgee Says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I am writing from Mongolia. I think that you are very academic teacher that I needed. I learned the language myself. I like to watch your video lessons very much. I have been teaching verb tenses for kids. They have studied all the forms and names of tenses. But they should study about the reason to use specific tense and more about time adverbials. I need your advice. Is there any shortcut to learn about verb tenses?

    Bilgee

    • englishwithjennifer Says:

      I don’t think there’s ever a shortcut to learning the grammar of a language. At this point, you likely need to do more communicative practice, that is, more activities that contextualize the tenese. With more practice, your students should become more accurate. When they choose tenses that are inappropriate for a situation, you’ll be able to explain why because you’ll have a concrete situation to refer to. Let them have fun playing detective (e.g., Where were you on the night of…? What were you doing at ….o’clock?) Let them put on a small show with lots of dialogue. Have them watch a funny scene from a movie and then retell it either orally or in writing. They need to understand how to shift from one tense to another depending on the time frame. Please write again if you’d like more suggestions. Good luck!


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