Whether you teach grammar to native English speakers or to ESL (English as a Second Language) students, knowing how to teach the topic of verb tenses is imperative to helping students obtain fluency in all areas of communication. After all, how many native English speakers can readily identify the 12 major verb tenses that exist in the English language? Probably very few.

Nonetheless, understanding the grammatical structure of the English language not only facilitates language learning and production but also a deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity. Therefore, it's important to know how to teach it in a manner from which others can learn best.

What Are the Different English Tenses?

When most people think of teaching tense, they usually think of the three main tenses: past, present and future – for instance, something as basic as whether or not you should use "was" or "is" in a sentence. However, there are actually four main groups of tenses, and past, present and future are the three subcategories of those four groups:

  • Simple Tenses: Simple tenses express facts

– for example, "I visited my mom last week/I visit my mom every week/I will visit my mom next week."

* Progressive Continuous Tenses: Progressive continuous tenses refer to unfinished events


for instance, "I was listening to music when the power went out/I am listening to music now but will stop to finish my homework/I will be listening to music on my drive to work tomorrow."<br><br>
  • Perfect Tenses: Perfect tenses are, most simply, used to indicate a sequence of events – for example, "I have studied English before/I had studied English before I studied French/I will have studied English for five years by the time I graduate."

  • Perfect Progressive Tenses: Perfect progressive tenses express duration and often include key words such as "since" or "for" – for instance, "I have been living in New York for three years/I had been living in New York for three years before the storm/I will have been living in New York for three years by the time I turn 25 years old."

Use an ESL Verb Tenses Chart

With so many tenses in English, learning not just what they are but how to use them and understand them correctly can take years to perfect. As a teacher, teaching tenses can be an overwhelming task. Fortunately, there are tons of great, readily available resources you can use to teach English tenses in your classroom.

An ESL verb tenses chart is an excellent way to consolidate and present key material to your students. Create the chart with your students as they learn each of the different tenses and hang it on the wall as a visual aid.

Regardless of the resources with which you are working, make sure the material is age and level appropriate. Begin with direct instruction ("I do"), model usage with your students ("we do") and finish up with student-led, independent participation ("you do"). Give students their own ESL verb tenses chart to take home and practice as their homework. Also, give students opportunities to use these tenses in their writing and to identify them in reading exercises.

Make Grammar and Teaching Tenses Fun

While it may be hard to believe that learning grammar can actually be fun, a good teacher knows how to make even the most complicated and frustrating topics enjoyable for students. To do this, give your students multiple engaging opportunities to practice what they are learning. This can be done by playing a game of verb tense charades or Pictionary, writing a communal story or building a storyboard using the various tenses.

Traditional verb-tense drills and conversation chains are other great ways to get students speaking and repeating key concepts, particularly in ESL classes. You can even incorporate music into your lessons by having students listen to a song and identify different verb tenses within the lyrics.

If you don't have time to create lesson plans from scratch, there are plenty of premade lesson plans that you can find online, or ask veteran teachers in your school if they have a lesson idea or plan they can share. Remember that it's important not to overload your students with too many tenses at once.

Provide Real-Life Examples

One of the best ways to teach tenses – especially to older students – is to give your students real-life examples. Explain to students the different scenarios in which they'd need to understand, identify and apply various verb tenses.

Grammar is essential when writing a college entrance essay, negotiating a job offer with a future boss or engaging in a conversation with a partner. For students from non-native, English-speaking countries who want to study abroad, knowing tenses is critical not just for passing exams but for communicating with others.

Knowing tenses and having a decent grasp of English grammar is necessary every day that we communicate with others. To emphasize this, you can also show students funny examples of the miscommunication that can happen when the wrong verb tenses are used.

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