Students reach a milestone in their language learning when they finally cover all the verb tenses. The real hurdle, however, is figuring out when to use each of them. As new verb tenses are presented, students should have opportunities to compare and contrast them with the tenses they already know. At the upper levels, we should still provide exercises to check and strengthen their understanding of all the verb tenses.
Consider the following activity to help your students master verb tenses:
Level: Intermediate to advanced
Objective: To write a plot description for a prequel and/or sequel after reading the plot summary of the current movie.
STEP 1 – Go online to find a plot summary of a movie. Prepare the text for classroom use. Provide a copy to each student. Read it as a class. Identify the time frame(s) and the verb tense(s). Discuss any unfamiliar vocabulary.
Example adapted from Netflix.com:
THE THING CALLED LOVE (1993)
Aspiring country singer Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis) follows her dream to Nashville, Tennessee, and finds herself falling for two very different men whom she meets at an audition. James Wright (River Phoenix) is an exciting and talented singer, while Kyle Davidson (Dermot Mulroney) is quiet and gentle. Miranda makes a rash decision that turns her life upside down. She will have to figure out how to get her musical — and personal — life back on track. Sandra Bullock co-stars.
STEP 2 – Break the students into twos or threes. If time allows, they will write plots for both a prequel and a sequel. If time is limited, some groups can write plots for a prequel, and other groups can write plots for a sequel. (You can also have all groups work on a prequel or a sequel, depending on which verb tenses you want to target.) Provide examples:
PREQUEL: GROWING UP COUNTRY
Before Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis) moved to Nashville, Tennessee, she had a life in New York. She grew up in the city, and she was surrounded by rock-n-roll. Friends and family thought her love for country music was strange…
SEQUEL: CRAZY IN LOVE
Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis) is now married to James Wright (River Phoenix). Both have had some success as country singers, but now their careers are going in different directions. Who will make a sacrifice to help the other? Miranda will have to choose between two loves: music and marriage…
STEP 3 – Groups will read their plot descriptions to the class. Feedback from the class and the teacher is given.
STEP 4 – Groups should have the opportunity to make changes before submitting the final draft to the teacher.
VARIATION 1: You can certainly adapt the activity for lower levels. Prequels can limit the focus to the simple past and perhaps also the past progressive. Sequels can limit the focus to the future with will and perhaps also be going to. The online plot descriptions can be adapted. Example:
THE THING CALLED LOVE (1993)
Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis) has a dream. She wants to be a country singer. She goes to Nashville, Tennessee, and meets two very different men. They also want to be singers. James Wright (River Phoenix) is an exciting and talented singer. Kyle Davidson (Dermot Mulroney) is quiet and kind. Miranda tries to have a happy and successful musical — and personal — life. Sandra Bullock co-stars.
OTHER SUGGESTED FILMS:
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
On Golden Pond (1981)
Seems Like Old Times (1980)