How To Teach Past Simple VS Present Perfect

How To Teach Past Simple VS Present Perfect

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When using the Present Perfect you should call the students’ attention to the consequences generated by an action, rather than just the action itself. The tense is always formed by conjugating the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ and then appending the verb’s past participle form.

How To Proceed

- Simple Past
I bought a new bike – (just reporting what I did in the past).
- Present Perfect
I have/I’ve bought a new bike – (expressing that I have a new bike now).
  1. 1

    Contrast Past Simple vs Present Perfect
    Students have probably had a gentle introduction to the Present Perfect before, but you are now trying to extend uses/meaning of the tense. Do not expect mastery by the end of the lesson – it takes a long time to be assimilated. A theme of Fame is useful as it naturally lends itself to talking about people’s experiences/opportunities for role plays/interviewing etc. It would be particularly useful to contrast 2 famous people/biographies, where 1 member is living and the other is dead, so that students can clearly grasp the difference vis-à-vis time in the sentence structures.
    Check students know the Past Simple and past participle forms of common irregular verbs.
    If your class is going to experience too much difficulty in comprehension then spend some time on the Grammar Reference Section in your textbook and definitely assign for homework after the presentation in class.

  2. 2

    Questions and Common Mistakes
    Ask students – ‘Which countries have you been to?’ Write the countries on the board. Then ask ‘When’ they went to determine a definite time scale. Once these sentences have been elicited you can distinguish the 2 tenses by ‘has been’ and ‘went.’
    Use timelines and concept questions to ensure they grasp the structures. Ensure lots of personalization and practice.
    Check for common mistakes: e.g. I have watched TV last night, or I live here for 5 years.

  3. 3

    Explain The Rule
    Past Simple Form:
    a) past form only.
    b) auxiliary ‘did’ + base form.
    The past form for all regular verbs ends in ……..ed/ or ……..d: e.g. worked/loved. Check spellings and practice for short verbs with only one syllable, as the consonant is doubled i.e stopped, planned. Verbs ending in a consonant + ‘y’, change to …ied e.g. carried/studied. The past form for irregular verbs needs to be learned by heart.
    Past Simple Use:
    An action/situation – an event in the past, which can be short or long: i.e. millisecond, millions of years. The event is in the past – it is completed/finished. We say or understand the time and/or place of the event. When we tell a story we usually use the simple past – for ‘action’ and the past continuous to ‘set the scene.’

    Present Perfect Form:
    This tense gives speakers of some languages a degree of difficulty, because the concept/idea does not exist in their L1 – it is expressed with a present tense. Tell students not to try and translate into their own language – try to think in the tense itself.
    Present Perfect Use:

    Limit the teaching uses at the Lower Intermediate Level:
    a) experience – not when you did something, but if you did it.
    b) change or new information – e.g. buy a car.
    c) Continuing situation – a state (not an action).
    British speakers use this tense more frequently: i.e. ‘Have you had lunch?’ rather than ‘Did you have lunch?’ Since – usually used with the Perfect Tenses only (point in past time). For – can be used with all tenses (period of time).

  4. 4

    Explain Further Differences Between The Tenses
    Don’t get bogged down in grammar. Be selective.
    - The Present Perfect is used when the time period has NOT finished - i.e. I have seen 3 movies this week (this week has not finished yet). The Simple Past is used when the time period HAS finished - i.e. I saw 3 movies last week (last week is finished).
    - The Present Perfect is often used when giving recent news: i.e. Martin has crashed his car again.
    - The Simple Past is used when giving older information: i.e. Martin crashed his car last year.
    - The Present Perfect is used when the time is not specific: i.e. I have seen that movie already (we don’t know when).
    - The Simple Past is used when the time is clear: i.e. I saw that movie on Thursday (we know exactly when).
    - The Present Perfect is used with ‘for’ and ‘since’, when the actions have not finished yet: i.e. I have lived in London for 5 years (I still live there).
    - The Simple Past is used with ‘for’ when the actions have already finished: i.e. I lived in London for 5 years (I don’t live there now).
    - Simple Past – Completed actions, a series of completed actions, duration in the past, habits in the past (past facts or generalizations could be left to a later lesson).
    - Present Perfect – Experiences, Changes over time (accomplishments of humanity and uncompleted actions you are expecting could also be introduced later in the study course).
    - The Simple Past is used for action that happened in the past and is OVER/DONE/FINISHED – stress this point. It is used with time words: e.g. yesterday, last Saturday, last week, three months ago, with specific dates – in 1990. If a time expression is used then it’s Past Simple.
    - The Present Perfect started in the past, but IT IS STILL TRUE TODAY or MIGHT HAPPEN AGAIN. It connects the past and the present, and we use since, so far, just, already, yet etc. If you are speaking about a specific time you cannot use this tense.

‘Ever’ and ‘Never’ distinction may cause problems for students so it is worth spending extra time drilling, exercises and mingling activities to aid assimilation.
Practice ‘For’ and ‘Since’ at length. Assign homework. Students have to find different buildings, shops, restaurants, etc that have a sign indicating when they opened i.e. since 1989. Ask family members/friends/fellow students questions ‘how long’ questions.


How do you teach Present Perfect vs. Past Simple? Please share your ideas with us!

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