Teaching Tenses

Need to review the twelve tenses in your language lessons? The following sites and games can help you do this in a fun way …

An understanding of the different tenses in English can be challenging for Additional Language learners, so finding fun ways to get students to use and practice their tenses can go a long way towards helping them succeed in this area of their language learning.  One useful online site for this is Dave’s ELS Café, (http://www.eslcafe.com/), a treasure trove of ideas for numerous aspects of teaching language.

We found a great game there called Alibi – for use in a communicative classroom. It involves organizing a trial in class where students will make use of various tenses. Firstly, you invent a crime, stating where and when it was committed. For example, a bank robbery at a nearby bank – and then you say that x number of students from the school are suspects. Divide your class in groups of four and from each group get one student to volunteer to be the suspect. Give these students an alibi, e.g. they could not have committed the robbery because they were having lunch at a restaurant in another part of town at the time. The students who aren't suspects, the investigators, must try to find holes in their alibis. They do this by interviewing each of the suspects separately and then comparing the stories to see if they match. Send the suspects out of the room to try to get their stories straight.  While the suspects are talking about the details of their stories, the investigators in each group come up with a list of questions about the "suspects’" alibi. They may ask things like "what was the waitress wearing, how long did you stay, how did you get there?"  After the students have finished preparing, invite the suspects back in; one suspect goes to each of the groups to be interviewed. Once each group has interviewed each suspect, compare alibis with the rest of the class. If the suspects’ stories match, they are off the hook; if not, they are officially accused.

For a really useful overview of all twelve tenses, you can access a Tense Chart which allows learners to look up and compare how these tenses are used in application. This resource is from Betty Azar, whose online “Fun with Grammar!” includes many communicative games that can be played in small or large groups of learners.

Macrat’s GET Grammar Series (which has been adapted from the popular Firm Foundations workbooks) offers more notes and exercises on tenses, verbs etc. The full photocopiable set offers a wealth of activities for learners in grades 8-9, but can also be used with other grades where the basics have been forgotten. There are four resource packs in the series with a Focus on:

  • Verbs and Adverbs
  • Sentences
  • Nouns and Adjectives
  • Pronouns and Prepositions.

Available as PDFs or printed copies. You can also order and download immediately from our website:

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