Are You Doing It Right? 6 Quick Tips on Teaching Continuous Tenses

Are You Doing It Right? 6 Quick Tips on Teaching Continuous Tenses

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 6,493 views |

Are you thinking about teaching continuous/progressive tenses?

Are you looking at your lesson plans and not sure exactly how to tackle the subject? Are you simply wishing you could take a different angle this time through? If so maybe now is the time to check out these quick tips for teaching progressive tenses. They will help you approach the subject with your students and make sure you cover all the necessary points so your students will be sure to get it.

Use These 6 Quick Tips To Teach Continuous Tenses Expertly

  1. 1

    Make Sure Your Students Are Comfortable Using “To Be”

    Because the verb “to be” is foundational in correct formation of the progressive tenses, your students must first be able to conjugate this verb in the present, past, and future before they can go on to learn the more complex progressive tenses. You will also want to make sure your students can comfortably make negative statements and questions with this verb in the simple tenses. If your students are comfortable with this first step, it’s time to move on to the conditional tenses.

    To make sure your students are comfortable with “to be” in all its forms, try playing this simple review game. As they play, students will have to make affirmative, negative, and interrogative sentences with the verb “to be”. To give your students a greater challenge, have them sometimes make their sentences in the present, sometimes in the past, and sometimes in the future.

  2. 2

    Show the Actions

    When you are ready to teach the progressive tenses, start with the present progressive. The present progressive is used to describe an action that is happening right now, so give your students something to talk about. Act out verbs for them, have them act out verbs for each other, use pictures of actions in progress, and video clips, too. The more you can make actions visible and tangible for your students, the easier they will be able to describe what is happening when they use the progressive tenses.

    One of your best resources for illustrating actions is right in front of you – your class! You can have students describe their classmates’ typical classroom actions like writing, sharpening a pencil, or taking notes, but don’t stop there. Have your students act out different verbs that you have included in your current vocabulary unit. Have students play charades or a modified version of the classic miming game. Do a complete class role play and have students pretend to be at a party while students take turns describing what each person is doing. Any of these activities will help your students understand that progressive tenses are in progress, that they are happening right now.

  3. 3

    Ask Questions and Disagree

    When teaching the progressive tenses, just like with any other tenses, make sure you take time to review the structure of questions and negative statements. For questions, students should begin their sentences with the correct form of “to be”, and they will not need to use “to do” in any progressive questions. Likewise, negative statements will use the negative form of “to be” and will not need negative do verbs (don’t and doesn’t).

    Give your students practice with questions and negative statements as well as negative questions by repeating the activities you did in step two. Rather than describe what their classmates are doing, have students describe what their classmates aren’t doing. You can also have pairs of students work together. The first asks a question about a particular classmate (Is Kwon sharpening his pencil?) and the second answers the question either affirmatively or negatively with a complete sentence. (No, he isn’t sharpening a pencil. He is taking a test.)

  4. 4

    Don’t Forget the Short Forms

    Have you ever noticed that language can be a lazy thing? When speakers can make something shorter, they do. (Think about contractions and reductions.) The progressive tenses are no different. In present, past, and future progressive tenses, contractions abound. Make sure you are taking time to practice contractions in the progressive tenses with your students. (Be sure to review how to write contractions as well.) While you’re making things a bit shorter, review how to use short answers in progressive tenses, too. Are you reading a book? Yes, I am. No, I’m not. Though students can use a full sentence when answering progressive questions, that kind of answer is sure to stand out to native speakers. The earlier you get your students giving short answers, the more like native speakers they will sound.

    To practice short answers, have students work with a partner. One person asks about the activity of a classmate, and the other person answers with a short answer. This activity also works well if your students are looking at action pictures or doing a class role play.

  5. 5

    Bring Adverb Clauses into the Discussion

    If you are teaching the past progressive tense to a beginning class, you might not want to bring adverb clauses into the discussion, but then again, maybe you do. Since past progressive tenses are dependent on a time or event in the past, it is a natural lead in to talking about adverb clauses. Adverb clauses are dependent clauses that act as an adverb, in this case describing when something happened. I was doing my homework when he called. They can appear either at the beginning of a sentence or at the end of a sentence, and in past progressive sentences start with “when”. The verb in the adverb clause appears in the simple past, so even students early in their language studies shouldn’t have too much trouble using them in a sentence.

    To practice, have students talk about events in their past. Students should use adverb clauses starting with “when” to describe their age and then tell their partner what they were doing at that age. For example, when I was five, I was going to kindergarten. You can also use historical events to complete the adverb clause (though be culturally sensitive if you do). Have your students think of significant events that have happened in their lifetimes, and use them to create adverb clauses. For example, when the twin towers were attacked, I was sitting in class. You should also point out to your students that specific times in the past can be used as the time markers in past progressive sentences, but these do not appear in adverb clauses. They usually appear in prepositional phrases. For example, in 2012 I was serving in the military.

  6. 6

    Bring Your Date Book to Class

    Since past progressive and future progressive tenses have to do with specific times either before now or yet to come, having students work with their calendars is a great way to make the tenses tangible. Call out a specific day and/or time, and ask students what they were doing or will be doing then. This is especially useful for business English students who likely have a full business calendar to work with. If your students aren’t the calendar type, that doesn’t mean you can’t still do this activity. Make a fictional calendar to use in class, or have your students work together to make fictional calendars to use when practicing the past and future progressive tenses.

    Have students create fictional calendars, marking specific events at times in the past and future that you assign. Then put students in pairs to compare their activities at each of these times.

Progressive tenses are very useful in speaking and writing, and the sooner you introduce them to your students the better off they will be. If you include these tips when you teach them, your students will have a solid foundation in using all of the progressive tenses.

What are your best tips for teaching the progressive tenses?

Share them with us in the comment section below.

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