Teach English in XuejiA Zhen - Changzhou Shi

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When a native English speaker refers to the present tense, they may not realize that there are actually four variations on the present tense in English: present simple, present continuous, present perfect, and present perfect continuous. For a teacher of English as a second language, it is important to understand how these tenses are formed, their usages, and how to illustrate their differences to students. When prompted to provide a sentence in the present tense, most people would generally reply with the present simple: the base form of the verb, sometimes with -s or -es as a suffix. The present simple is often used to describe routines, provide instructions, write headlines, and dictate history. It is also often the first tense a student will learn, and as such, there may be many mistakes in conjugation, word order, and auxiliary verbs. Firstly, the teacher should prompt the class to speak in the present simple, perhaps by asking them simple conversational questions they would have already been exposed to. After they are warmed up and interested, the teacher should then give a more structured lesson during the study phase, such as worksheets or group activities. Lastly in order to make sure the students are able to fluently utilize the language they have just learned, there are many different activities that could get the students to creatively activate their knowledge. One activity could be providing unlabeled pictures of someone’s daily routine which the students will then have to order and describe; this could be paired well with a vocabulary lesson on household items and activities. A fun game to get students talking could be a variation on the twenty questions game; you could have students ask yes-or-no questions in order to guess what profession, animal, or other vocabulary topic the other student is pretending to be. Be sure they answer in full sentences! Another vocabulary lesson this could easily be incorporated with is direction-giving; give students a street map, and have them ask for directions. The present continuous, formed with the auxiliary verb “be” and a present participle, is often used to describe current actions, temporary actions, background descriptions, and developing situations. Common problems students will run into include forgetting the auxiliary verb, trying to conjugate the participle, and using the present continuous for non-action verbs. Native English speakers use the present continuous very often, and as such, there are many practical applications the teacher may introduce to activate the students’ language skills. In some languages, the past tense is used to refer to photographs; however, in English we generally use the present continuous to describe what we see in a photo. Take this opportunity to familiarize the students with this concept by having them describe what people are doing or wearing in photos, play Pictionary, charades, or spot-the-difference games. For more advanced classes, the teacher might consider bringing in authentic material in the form of graphs and having the students describe what changes they represent. The present perfect consists of the auxiliary verb “have” and a past participle, and it is used to express a finished experience or activity, past actions with current results, and current states that started in the past. This form lends itself well to mill-drills in which the students go around the classroom and ask “have you ___?” to the other students. Similarly, one way to turn this concept into a game is a modified version of “Never Have I Ever”. Students can take turns giving sentences related to experiences they have never had but would like to. For example one might say “I have never skied”, and if someone else in that group has skied, they reply “I have skied” and they can raise a finger or give themselves a tally mark to keep track; whoever has the most wins! The most complicated present tense is the present perfect continuous, which is formed with the auxiliary verbs “have been” and a present participle. It is used for incomplete but ongoing activities or recently completed activities with present relevant consequences. This tense is often confused with the present perfect, so it is important to make sure students understand the difference. The perfect continuous puts more emphasis on the action, rather than a result, often accompanied by an amount of time or a “since” clause. To instill that this tense is used to convey actions with present consequences, a fun activity would be matching actions with results. For example, one card could depict a man on a treadmill, which the student could label “he has been running” or “he has been exercising”. The matching card would show him covered in sweat, so it should be labelled “he is sweating” to get a full sentence that sounds something like “he has been running, so he is sweating”. This activity will also establish the role of the present continuous in describing the current results. In order to get students comfortable using “for” and “since” to describe how long they have been doing something, the teacher could introduce an activity where students form groups based on similar interests and discuss how long they have been participating in those activities. Ask them to present to the class on who has been doing it the longest and shortest! No doubt, there are many more intricacies to the present tense than at first it seems, but with the right activities and techniques, students can develop a feel for the tenses’ contexts and gain confidence in their usage.