News headlines are known for concise wording, and this provides a unique opportunity to teach differences among verb tenses in an authentic context. Fleshing out the simplified grammar forces students to remember the form and understand the meaning of a given verb tense. Consider this sequence for intermediate and advanced students:
STEP 1: Select several headlines from a current news source (approx. 3). Present them one at a time. Example: Buried Under Snow. Ask students to make a prediction about the content of the article. Examples: “I think it’s about people who were buried under snow.”/ “It might be a weather report. Maybe a city or state will have a lot of snow soon.” As they offer predictions, note the verbs they are using on the board: were buried, will have, etc.
Suggestion: If the class is slow to offer predictions, prompt them with one verb in 3-4 different tenses (WHO/WHAT + was buried, is buried, has been buried).
STEP 2: Ask students to skim the article to find out if any of their predictions were accurate. Conclude what time frame the headline refers to based on the content of the article.
STEP 3: Write a one-line summary of the article that incorporates the headline and identify the verb tense used. Example: Time frame = past. > Many parts of England were buried under snow last week and much activity had to stop. = simple past. Discuss alternative verb tenses and why they may or may not be appropriate. Example: Many parts of England have been buried… = present perfect; only appropriate if the country is still under snow.
As time allows, you can also have students compose their own headlines. The sequence of steps becomes reversed:
STEP 1: Have students name several current events (approx. 3) that they are aware of. As you list them on the board, try to elicit past, present, and future events.
STEP 2: In pairs, students should create a headline for each event. Encourage use short phrases (e.g. passive voice without the verb to be). Note other helpful tips such as the omission of articles in headlines.
STEP 3: Have volunteers share their headlines and discuss any variations.