How to teach the simple present tense?

Difficulties

When teaching the simple present tense, there are several considerations teachers have to take into account. First, some irregular verbs may confuse students. For instance, the verb ‘have‘ and ‘be‘ have different forms in the simple present (has, am, are,…) A second concern is related to the dropping of the ‘s’ of the third person singular which many students seem to forget . Another difficulty is the spelling of the forms that take the ‘s’ of the third person singular. Sometimes, only ‘s‘ is added (close – closes) while in some forms ‘es’ is added (watch – watches.) Finally, interrogative and negative forms which necessitate the auxiliary ‘do‘ may represent another challenge for beginner students.

Contrasting tenses

Bearing in mind the above difficulties, I usually try to teach a tense by contrasting it with another tense. For the simple present tense, I contrast it with either:

  • the present progressive tense (I’m reading a book now; I always read it in the morning),
  • or the simple past (I usually play tennis on Sundays, but last Sunday I didn’t play tennis; I was ill)

Contrasting tenses gives students the opportunity to make  finer distinctions between tenses and locate situations in time. Learners will also be able to discover nuances in meaning as well as in structure. IN the case of the simple present, my ultimate aim is to make students understand  that this tense is used to describe routines, habits, daily activities, and general truths.

Tips and procedure to teach the simple present tense

1. Introduce the simple present and the present progressive through situations.

A. What am I doing now? (pretend to be reading a book)
B. Reading.
A. Yes I am reading a book at the moment. I read a book every week.

2. Write similar examples on the board.

  • I am watching TV now. I watch TV every evening. I love watching movies.
  • I am playing soccer. I play soccer every Sunday. I like soccer, but I don’t like tennis.
  • I am driving to work now . I drive to work every morning. I live far away from work.
  • I am having lunch now. I usually have lunch at home. I don’t like to have lunch in a restaurant.

3. Draw a table on the board like the one below and students to identify the actions that routines habits or facts and those that take place at the time of speaking.

 Routines, facts and habitual actions Actions that take place now
I watch TV every evening.
I like playing soccer.
I don’t like playing tennis.
I am watching TV now.
I am playing soccer.
I am driving to work now.

4. Introduce a) interrogative forms and b) third person singular forms, negative and affirmative.

  • Do you like playing soccer?
    Yes, I like playing soccer, but I don’t like playing tennis. My sister doesn’t like playing tennis. She likes playing volleyball.
  • Does Yor sister have a lot of friends?
    No, she doesn’t have many friends. She’s unpopular.
  • Do your parents like watching action films?
    No they don’t; they prefer love stories.

Ask students to complete this chart:

 Affirmative Forms Interrogative forms Negative forms
I like playing soccer Do you like playing soccer I don’t like playing tennis
My sister likes playing volleyball  …

5. Introduce adverbs of frequency and prepare a questionnaire like the following:

Choose the appropriate choice for you:

  • I eat breakfast in the cafeteria.
    a. Always b. Sometimes c. Rarely d. Never
  • I drink strong coffee in the morning.
    a. Always b. Sometimes c. Rarely d. Never
  • I have lunch at a fast food restaurant.
    a. Always b. Sometimes c. Rarely d. Never
  • I eat fruits after lunch.
    a. Always b. Sometimes c. Rarely d. Never
  • I have dinner at home
    a. Always b. Sometimes c. Rarely d. Never

6. Students read their preferences. The other students listen and take notes. Then they write short paragraphs about their partners.

My partner never has breakfast in a cafeteria. He sometimes has strong coffee…

7.  Ask students to come up with examples of the simple present.

  • My name is…
  • I am from…
  • I … every morning.
  • I work  in …
  • I like…, but I don’t like…
  • I go to…. school.
  • I go to bed at…

Walk around and provide any help. Then ask students to write a paragraph using the examples they provided.

8. Later, it would be a great idea to help students distinguish between the simple present and the simple past. Provide examples like the following:

  • I go to the movies every Saturday, but last Saturday I didn’t go to the movies I stayed at home. I was ill.
  • They always have breakfast at home, but last Sunday they didn’t have breakfast at home. They went out early in the morning.

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6 Responses

  1. Chilton says:

    Hi. Thanks for posting this here. I’m trying to learn how to make my first lesson plan, and I’ve found it very helpful. Originally I was going to try to split the regular and irregular verbs into two different lesson plans. Do you think this is necessary, or do you usually do it in one lesson plan? What do you do to ensure the students don’t get too bogged down with all that information. Thanks again. This has been a great help!

  2. Hi,
    You can do it differently if you want. For example, you can start by introducing the verb to be in one lesson, with all the drilling and the meaningful practice. Later, you can introduce the other verbs in another lesson. The idea is that you should try what may work for you, depending on your students needs.

  3. EmmaP. says:

    Thanks for showing me how to teach simple present tense. I think the method that you give here is a very good one :)

  4. TeacherAmor says:

    Hi! Thank you for this useful post of yours. it truly help me in doing my first lesson plan for Simple tense. May I ask you a question? how can I teach Simple tense to preschoolers?

  5. Hi,

    To start with, for very young learners, it might be a great challenge to teach any point of grammar. I always prefer to use a lot of activties in which very young learners learn by doing (dancing, playing, singing…). This is because it is usually very difficult to keep them 100% concentrated and may feel bored when they are introduced to abstract language concepts. I suggest that you introduce tenses and other language elements in a very amusing manner such as games and songs.
    Have a look at this link:
    How to teach very young learners?

  6. Omar says:

    Thank you so much for showing us how easy can it be to teach simple tenses , that was really brilliant.

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