ITTT Unit 4: Present Tenses

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ITTT Online Course review: Unit 4 - Present tenses

Grammar exists in every language and native-speakers of any language have grasped the grammar rules of their own language by about the age of five or six years old. This is quite amazing, as no formal teaching is ever really given to children at home; they just pick it up naturally – and usually around the same age and with all the different input that different children will invariably get.

Non-native English teachers have an edge

This can present a problem for native-speaking English teachers, as they all know grammar rules inherently, but when it comes to hearing what these grammar terms are called or called upon to teach grammar, they just don’t know where to start. Even though I’m a native-speaker myself, when I started my own TEFL training in Brighton, UK, I felt like a fish out of water. The terms ‘present simple’, ‘present continuous’, ‘present perfect’, etc, were all alien to me. In fact, non-native English teachers have an edge over native-speaking TEFL teachers, because they have had to learn these terms in a formal classroom environment and have the experience of understanding how English grammar is formed and what it feels like to be on the student side of the classroom. This experience is invaluable, especially when just starting a TEFL course. Native-speaking TEFL trainees are playing catch-up!

Three tenses: past, present and future

Unit 4 of the 120-hour online TEFL course by ITTT starts by telling us that although many linguistics say that there are only two tenses, the past tense and the present tense, most speakers of English (and English language course books around the world) say that there are three tenses in English: the past, the present, and the future. The online TEFL course goes on to explain that each three tenses can be divided into four aspects: simple tense, continuous, perfect and perfect continuous. If you’re reading this ahead of taking the course, don’t let these terms daunt you; you’ll soon be navigating your way around these terms with ease. In fact, learning grammar terms and rules is an essential part of English teaching and you should embrace this learning opportunity.

A focus on the present tense

This unit focus solely on present tenses; sentences that talk about the here and now. ‘Form’ is discussed, that is, how the sentences are constructed, why they are used and when, common student errors which you’ll encounter in the classroom when you’re teaching English after your TEFL training and a few nice activities you can use during the ‘Activation’ stage of your teaching (you should remember ESL, Engage-Study-Activate, from Unit 3).

What is the Present Simple used for?

The Present Simple tense is used to talk about normal or habitual routines. For example:

“Every day, I wake up, eat my breakfast and then go to work. I catch the 22 bus to get to work. My girlfriend catches to train to work.”

You can also use the present tense to talk about permanent situations or facts:

“The sun sets in the west.”

See! Super easy to get your head around!

Fun activities to practice the Present Simple

  • Find Someone Who – activities in which students mingle and chat around the classroom interviewing each other to fill out a form. For example: who eats pizza every week, who buys their shoes online, who rides a bike to work, etc.

  • A Day in the Life of – students are provided with visual cues, like photos cut out of a magazine, and then must put them together to construct and talk about someone’s day.

Present Continuous

The present continuous tense is made up of the auxiliary verb ‘be’ (don’t panic…this means ‘is/are/am’) + a verb + ‘ing’. It is mainly used to talk about an action happening at the time of speaking. For example:

“I am going to America today.”

“She is watching TV.”

“They are eating pasta.”

Some good teaching activities for present continuous are:

  • Mime – the teacher gives a student some cards with different actions on, for example, an astronaut walking on the moon, someone late to a party, etc. The student then mimes the action for other teams of students to guess.

  • Picture dictation – pairs of students are given different simple black and white pictures. They have to explain their picture to their partner who must draw the picture without seeing it, just from descriptions. For example:

“My picture is at the beach. There is a woman eating an ice-cream and two children are playing volleyball. A man is reading a book.”

  • Where’s Wally? – print out a Where’s Wally? picture for each pair of students. Make the picture the same for each pair of students. Each pair of students starts with three lives. Start with one pair and this pair must say one thing which is happening in the picture, then move to the next pair. If a pair repeats an action previously said or is too slow, then they lose a life. Keep going around until three teams are knocked out.

Present Perfect

The present perfect tense relates something which has happened in the past to something going on now. It can be used to talk about a finished action which occurred sometime in the past. For example:

“I have eaten snails.”

It can also be used to talk about things that began in the past that are still true now. For example:

“She has lived in Shanghai for ten years.”

Teaching Activities for Simple Perfect tense

  • I have never… - get your students to move their chairs to make a big circle with the teacher standing in the middle of the circle. The students should also be standing in a circle facing the teacher. The teacher says “I have never eaten an apple”. Any student who have eaten an apple (that should be every one), should move to another place in the circle. The teacher then says another sentence that everyone has done, for example: “I have never ridden a bicycle”. Again, everyone who has should change place. The teacher says a third, but this time, takes the seat of one student when they start to move, leaving a student without a chair and standing in the middle. Now students should say “I have never…” and then try to quickly find a chair when people move. This is a fast-paced game practicing simple perfect tense.

Present Perfect Continuous

The Present Continuous Tense connects the past with the present. It implies that the event is likely to continue for some time into the future or has been happening for quite some time already. It uses ‘ing’ in the sentence. For example:

“I’ve been cleaning the car.”

“I have have been dancing.”

Students get given a card with some actions on the card and a result of those actions. For example:

“You’ve been playing football. You’re clothes are dirty”

“You’ve been climbing a mountain. You’re tired.”

“You’ve fallen in a river. You’re wet.”

The student with the card must tell another student the result, but not the reason. The other student must ask questions to determine what has happened. For example:

“Have you been working all day?”

“Have you been walking in the rain?”

Once you get your head around the names of these grammar tenses and how they are formed, then you’ll be able to teach and explain to your students what is happening with more confidence. So far, this online TEFL course is impressing me.

Stuart Allen