The present simple is the most basic tense in any language and it is the first tense that learners of English will learn and use, starting with the verb ‘to be’.
Curiously, however, no matter how advanced the learner is, there are often basic mistakes such as formation that are continuously made. In every single ESL course book for learners ranging from starters to advanced ones, the present tenses always pop up and they’re always the first tense to get covered. As learners advance, they naturally begin to roll their eyes and tire of the present simple tense often complaining that they know it and it’s “too easy.” But without realizing it, the present simple is used in so many different scenarios in the English language and to master the language the basics must be mastered first.
While they probably know it deep down, ESL learners often forget that to know a language well there needs to be constant revision, even of the basics.
Push Your Advanced Students More with Present Simple
At this stage learners know the basics of the present simple, but do they know their uses? Like native speakers they know how to use the tense, but rarely understand why they are using it. Refrain from telling the learners that you’re having a grammar review, it will surely be met with moans.
Instead begin you lesson by writing example sentences under each other showing all the different uses of the present simple (if you have access to powerpoint, it would be quicker to have this pre-prepared). Sentence uses should include: present simple for a fact (e.g. The cheetah is the fastest animal in the world), present simple for routine (e.g. Every morning Jenny wakes up at before her brother), present simple for timetable (e.g. Flight 451 to Manchester leaves on the hour every two hours), present simple for declaration (e.g. I love you), present simple with stative verbs (e.g. I know what to do), present simple for quoting someone (e.g. Maria says she’s ready), present simple for a plot (e.g. Ophelia tragically drowns in a stream), present simple for a headline (e.g. Five die in city house fire), present simple for jokes (e.g. A snail walks into a bar and the barman tells him there's a strict policy about having snails in the bar and so kicks him out. A year later the same snail re-enters the bar and asks the barman "What did you do that for?"), present simple for sports commentary (e.g. Messi dribbles the ball up the centre field, he shoots, he scores, what a wonderful goal from Lionel Messi), present simple for the future (e.g. My flight leaves at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning), present simple for instruction (e.g. Finely chop the shallots and add them to the skillet) and present simple for a theoretical or planned situation (e.g. according to the CEO’s idea, I help seat all the guests and give a formal welcome).
After your example sentences have been listed or projected on the board ask your students to draw the connection between the different examples. At first they’ll be trying to think of really complicated connections and looking more at the meaning of the sentences rather than the connection between the structures. This activity is a perfect way of exercising the left side of the brain with logic and deductive reasoning. When they come to the conclusion, ask your learners then to produce the uses/rules of each example sentence by making reference to the examples. This activity will benefit your more advanced learners as it’s a form of discovery learning which helps to further build on your students’ prior knowledge and as it’s more challenging for them, they won’t grow bored so quickly.
A fun and engaging way to review the present simple is through using a cooking video. I prefer to use a clip with a more famous chef that everyone is familiar with such as Jamie Oliver. Firstly, write the words present simple on the board without speaking and then instruct your learners to watch and listen carefully. Play a short segment of the beginning of a cooking show and pause the video. Ask the students why they believe you’ve written the term present simple on the board and showing a cooking clip. If they’re really advanced students they’ll pick it up almost immediately. Explain that you’re going to watch Jamie Oliver or whoever else cook lasagna for example. It is the task of the learners to write down the notes of the steps involved in cooking the lasagna. Stress the importance of taking good and relevant notes as they’ll be expected to produce a recipe using the present simple and the exact steps taken at the end of the show. This is a great way to incorporate both listening and writing skills while reviewing basic grammar points. As the learners have to be more active in the lesson with the reviewing of the present simple, they’ll forget their usual complaints of the tense being too basic for them and focus on the task at hand.
This kind of activity can work with any how to or instructional video, however, I find it works best with cooking and recipes as more learners can relate to this and it’s more realistic in the terms of most people will cook at some stage in their lives.
It’s been said that to know a language completely you need to be able to understand its humor. Integrating jokes in the English classroom when reviewing the present simple with advanced learners is fun and it will really test their comprehension. Start the lesson by asking if the students know any jokes in English. If they do, encourage them to share them with the class. Scour the internet and find some age and content appropriate jokes (one-liners are great for this) that use the present simple tense. Split the group of collected jokes in half. Project one or two of the first half of the jokes on the board and explain that the segments are part of an English joke. Ask your learners to try and guess the second part of the joke or encourage them to come with their own endings. On a worksheet have all of your split jokes in two jumbled up columns and ask the students to match the two halves to form the complete joke. Model retelling one of the completed jokes using your voice to exaggerate the necessary parts and take pauses in the right places. Work your way around the class having the students do the same for the remainder of the jokes. The most challenging part of this is the last exercise where learners are encouraged to write their own one-liner jokes based on the structure of the jokes they can see on their worksheet using the present simple tense. Working with jokes is not only fun, it helps to practice and review one of the uses of everyday English and of course it gives your advanced learners a review of the present simple tense without them even realizing it. The use of jokes is also beneficial for advanced learners as it can be very relevant to life as jokes and storytelling plays a huge role in everyday life.
Creativity and Present Simple
If you wish to review the present simple tense and more specifically routine and habitual activities it is easy to get stuck with what to do with advanced learners. Over the years of them learning English they’ve broken down their daily routines time and time again which not only gets monotonous for the learner but also the teacher. Creative thinking is a great way to get learners to think outside the square as quite often they are stuck on specific ideas after repeating them so often in the ESL classroom. Have your learners name a list of everyday household appliances. After listing the appliances such as vacuum cleaner and dishwasher, ask your learners to choose one. Explain to your learners that they are no longer human and for this lesson they’re their chosen appliance. With their appliance in mind, they must brainstorm a number of different activities that the said appliance does. This is a great time to introduce the idea of personification and giving inanimate objects human characteristics. After the lists have been drawn up ask your learners to write sentences using the present simple tense showing the daily routine of the household appliance and to make this activity even more fun and challenging each sentence could be read without naming the appliance and it could be treated as a riddle for the other participants of the class to guess what it is.
Learning and reviewing grammar doesn’t have to always follow the same routine and more advanced learners need to be challenged.
They’re right in the sense that repetitive lessons and grammar points get boring when they’re not mentally stimulated. Challenge your more advanced learners to keep them motivated and help them understand that even though it is only the present simple there’s still a lot to learn and review when it comes to working towards fluency in English.