Verb Talk: Conversation Activities to Practice Using Verb Tenses

Verb Talk
Conversation Activities to Practice Using Verb Tenses

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 209,125 views

Every ESL student needs practice with his or her verbs, but sometimes it can be difficult to move the practice off of the paper and into spoken English. The following activities can be used to give your students practice with specific verb tenses in a conversational setting.

If you like, you can fit them into the thematic units you are teaching your class. Either way, your students will benefit from realistic situations in which to practice speaking.

How to Practice Using Verb Tenses With Your Class

  1. 1

    Take a Poll

    Any opportunities you can give your students to have a conversation with native speakers will be beneficial to their language fluency. With this in mind, have your students do some research about current opinion by sending them out to survey the general population. Divide your class into small groups; four or five students in each group will work well. Then ask each group to think about the kinds of information they might like to have from native speakers. These speakers might be the general public or other students in their school. Do they want to ask questions about how those native speakers feel about international students? Are your students interested in the activities others participate in or activities they feel are lacking in the school? Would your students benefit from learning more about the hobbies or personal interests of other students? Whatever they may be interested in, have each group make a list of about five questions that they want to ask the average person. After the questions are decided, have each group go out and administer their survey to a specified number of people. The more people they are able to survey, the more reliable their results will be. After their surveys are taken, have each group compile the information and then present it to the class. In this presentation, they will use present tenses to describe the opinions their interviewees hold. You may also want to have your students make some suggestions based on their research. If so, they will use future tenses to make predictions or offer suggestions on how to resolve a negative situation.

  2. 2


    Not only are interviews a good scenario for speaking practice, they are a life skill that your students are likely to need in their futures. To practice verb usage in the present and past, have your students pair off giving an interview as and being interviewed by a prospective employer. The interviewer should ask questions of the other person about his or her past experience and education as well as his present interests and skills that he possesses. Your students can also practice their future tenses by making predictions about what duties they will perform in the job. The person being interviewed answers the questions using the appropriate tenses. Once the interview is over, have your students change roles. Now the person who was the interviewer becomes the interviewee and both students get another chance to practice their spoken grammar.

  3. 3

    Problem Solving

    Are your students familiar with the popular saying that hindsight is 20/20? If not, explain the term to them, and then ask them to think of a time in the past in which they wish they knew then what they know now. Ask them to try to remember as many details about the situation as possible. Then put your students together in pairs and have them share their experiences with each other. What was the problem? How did they handle it then? How would they handle it now? What advice can the other person give now that would have been useful then? Throughout the conversations, encourage your students to use verb tenses in the past to describe the situation and how they handled it as well as what they should have done.

  4. 4


    Debates are a natural avenue for your students to get speaking practice. Though one person on each side is the primary speaker, your entire class can participate by working as a group to support and help the formal speaker. Not only that, debates can be tailored to a specific time period to practice the tenses you want to focus on. When you want to give your students practice with past tenses, choose a topic with which your class is familiar or on which they can do research. The most common topics will be political or be events that had historical significance. Give your groups some time to gather information on the issue and then prepare their arguments. You can choose something like the following: were the 1960’s in the United States a decade of freedom or anarchy? Your students will have to formulate their arguments in past tenses and describe past situations to support their arguments.

    You can also have your students debate current issues. November can be a great time to do a debate on current events since elections are bound to bring controversial issues to the forefront. Again, give your class time to research the topic under discussion and then have them formulate their arguments in the present tenses giving evidence to support their opinions.

    To practice future tenses with debates, choose a proposition such as this: the world will be a better place in fifty years than it is now. Your class will need time to discuss the issues and imagine what the world will be like in the future. As the teams debate, they will naturally find themselves using future tenses to discuss what life may be like in the future. Whatever topic you choose for your debate, you can be sure it will fit the specific needs of your class.

All too often when we are teaching grammar, we fail to practice the spoken element.

The next time you are doing a verb review, try one of these conversation activities to get your class speaking their minds and practicing their grammar, out loud, in the process.

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