How to Teach Present Perfect: Alternative Approach

How to Teach Present Perfect
Alternative Approach

Tara Arntsen
by Tara Arntsen 24,960 views

We have already looked into teaching Present Perfect in the recent article ‘How to Teach Present Perfect: Activities and Examples’; now it’s time to review another approach to doing it.

The Present Perfect tense is often taught and practiced over the period of several months due to its complexity and the range of situations in which it is used. This can make classes monotonous for students and challenging for you to plan as you have to think of new practice activities to use.

How To Proceed

  1. 1

    First, introduce the very simple “Yes, I have. No, I haven’t.” structures. Drill these structures with students and ask questions such as “Have you played soccer?” to elicit the target structure from students. When you first used these types of questions it is not imperative that students understand exactly what the sentence means but they should be able to answer correctly. By asking students questions such as “Have you visited ~.” using a very obscure or far away place such as the moon, they should start to get a fairly good idea of what the question means. Check by asking for a translation at the end of the activity.

  2. 2


    To practice these structures, use an interview game where students have a worksheet with questions that they have to go around the room asking and answering. The goal is to have students write down other students’ answers and get signatures for each question. You can also design a board game where each student must answer the question he lands on during his turn. Another game, which takes an entire class period on its own, is called Liar. Students should first be given a worksheet with four to five questions such as “Have you ever seen a famous person?” and write down their answers. Try to choose questions so that some students will honestly write “Yes, I have.” as their answer. Next have students get into groups of about five and choose a student to change his answer for each question. One student can change all of his answers or students can decide that different group members change answers for different questions. When students have finished there should be one lie for each question in each group. Then the game can begin. Ask the students in the first group to read their answers to the first question and students who answered “Yes, I have.” should have a short story relating to the experience that can be told in their native language. Give students in the other groups about a minute to decide who they think is lying. Then ask the student who lied to raise his or her hand and record points for correct guesses. Move on to the next group and use the second question so that students get to hear different types of stories. When you get back to the first group, just be sure not to use the first question again.

  3. 3

    Introduce More Complex Structures

    Introduce students to more complex sentence structures using the present perfect tense and discuss when they would be used. Practice these extensively as a class through drilling and comprehension checks.

  4. 4

    Practice with Worksheets

    These practice activities will be more challenging for students than the ones they completed above. Have them complete some exercises practicing just the present perfect tense but as they progress, challenge them with more difficult exercises that combine previously studied material. One way to do this is to have sentences such as
    - Yuki: "You live in Furukawa? How long _____________ there?"
    - Kino: "Oh, I’ve lived here about five years.”
    where students must choose an answer from “a. do you live b. are you living c. have you lived d. did you live”.

  5. 5


    An activity such as Jeopardy which takes up an entire lesson period would be good for reviewing the present perfect tense because it will give students a break from worksheets and studying grammatical structures. When teaching a topic such as this for an extended period of time, it may also be a good idea to set aside one lesson a week for another activity such as writing letters to pen pals or keeping an English diary. These types of activities also allow you to combine a number of topics so that your students do not lose sight of the fact that this particular tense is just one small part of the English language.

  6. 6


    As a general review activity you can divide students into groups and play Hangman with sentences or words from their textbook. It is perhaps not appropriate to play the original game in your classroom so you can just adapt it so that no one actually hangs. One adaptation is to simply have a very large fish where when students guess incorrectly, a little fish gets closer and closer to being eaten. This is not very accurate as you can either draw the game out or end it whenever you choose. Another method of playing is to assign a point value to certain things. For example, if a group guesses the letter a and there are three in the sentence, the group would get three points. A correct guess of the entire sentence would be five points while there should be a penalty for guessing the entire phrase incorrectly but no penalty for guessing a letter that is not used. You can alter the scoring anyway you would like to make it more appropriate for your class.

Studying the same material class after class can become tedious for students but this is one topic that requires lots of practice to master. Many ESL students struggle on exercises like the multiple choice activity suggested above because those are some of the most common mistakes ESL learners make.

See all Present Perfect worksheets and lesson activities.


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