Teaching the Simple Present

How do you usually teach the simple present tense to your students? Many textbooks break it down into parts. For example, a textbook will present just one use of the simple present, such as repeated actions. But in my experience, students grasp onto this verb tense more easily when an overview of all four uses is given right off the bat. After I introduce this tense using the method outlined below, I let students practice one part at a time. So they get the big picture, and then they practice one area in more detail before moving onto the next area. If your students are very low level, you could choose to present these uses one at a time. Alternatively, you can use the outline below as a review after students have learned all of the different uses of the simple present tense in English.

Let’s review the basic rules and go over the four uses. Be sure to check out the practice and fun activities suggested at the end of the post!

A. Basic Rules:

The simple present is formed from the base form of the verb (the infinitive form of the verb without to). In English, we must add -s to third person singular pronouns, singular count nouns, and non-count nouns.

  • Pronouns:

first person singular – I run.
second person singular – You run.
third person singular – He / She / It runs.
first person plural – We run.
second person plural – You run.
third person plural – They run.

  • Singular Count Nouns – My friend runs.
  • Non-Count Nouns – Water runs down the drain.
  • Plural Count Nouns – My friends run.

Point out to students that the Be verb is an exception. The forms of Be include: I am, you are, he / she / it / singular count nouns / non-count nouns is, we are, they / plural count nouns are.

B. Four Uses of the Simple Present:

1. REPEATED ACTIONS

In English, the simple present is used for actions that happen repeatedly over time. Teach students to look for time markers (words that indicate the tense of a verb) that are common with this use.

Time markers for this use include:

  • every (every day, every week, every month, every year, etc.)
  • once, twice, three times, etc. (once a week, twice a month, three times a year, etc.)
  • adverbs of frequency (always, almost always, often, usually, sometimes, almost never, never, etc.)

Examples:

  • I wash my face every day.
  • My friend eats fast food once a week.
  • He always brushes his teeth before bed.

2. TRUE FACTS

Sentences that contain true, often scientific, facts in English will normally take a simple present verb. Historical facts most often take a simple past verb, but a simple present verb is sometimes a possible alternative (i.e., the historical present).

True facts include:

  • scientific facts
  • historical facts
  • unchanging facts

Examples:

  • Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.
  • Obama addresses the UN on September 21, 2011.
  • Vancouver is a beautiful city.

3. NON-ACTION VERBS

Non-action verbs are verbs that don’t contain an action or movement. These verbs will almost always be in the simple present form, not the present progressive form.

Non-action verbs include:

  • be
  • have
  • feelings (love, like, hate, etc.)
  • thinking verbs (think, know, believe, etc.)
  • five senses (see, hear, taste, touch, smell)

Examples:

  • She is hungry.
  • They have a dog.
  • My mother likes pizza.

*Note: There are some exceptions to these rules. For example, some of the verbs above use the present progressive when taking on an “action” role, such as I’m thinking of last night (“remembering”) vs. I think that global warming is a serious problem (“opinion”). You may want to point this out to higher-level students.

4. SCHEDULES

Schedules in English are often associated with the simple present, though the simple future is also possible.

Some examples of schedules include:

  • TV schedules
  • Transportation timetables
  • Personal schedules

Examples:

  • SpongeBob SquarePants is on channel 22 at 4:00 p.m. tomorrow.
  • Bus #451 leaves from the station at 9:00 p.m. tonight.
  • I have a doctor’s appointment at 10:00 a.m. next Friday.

C. Practice:

Try Sprout English’s Grammar School, Library, Conversation Station, Discovery Center, and Word Bank sections for exercises using the simple present tense.

Our Grammar School has many simple present lessons that are broken down into categories, like Do, Can, Be, and Wh-Questions. There are more than enough worksheets to practice in class and do for homework. We also have simple present lessons in the Q & A Review and Grammar Stories sections of the Grammar School.

Our Library section lets students see the simple present in action. There are 17 simple present lessons in our Library – Present Simple Stories section. These lessons also include a digital component that students can do in class or at home.

Our Conversation Station has two categories of simple present dialogues: Present Simple Dialogues 1 and 2. Each section has over 20 worksheets!

Almost all of our Discovery Center lessons use the simple present. Students can see this tense in use as they read about topics that interest them such as animals, famous places, and food.

Our Verbs & Prepositions section in our Word Bank has a nine-page lesson on Daily Routines. Perfect practice for repeated actions in the simple present!

D. Fun Activities:

Bingo – You can make a bingo sheet using simple present sentences. (E.g., I like sushi, I am tall, I don’t wear jeans, etc.) Have students walk around the class asking each other a simple present question (e.g., Do you like sushi?). If the classmate answers yes, the student can check off that box. The first student to get one vertical, horizontal, or diagonal row completed wins! (Get them to complete two rows before yelling “Bingo!” to make the game last longer.)

Alternatively, get students to make their own Bingo cards by filling in each box with a simple present sentence. Then proceed as above.

Sprout English has blank Bingo cards in our Games Room section in the Bingo category!

Find Someone Who – You can write a list of simple present questions, or have students create their own. (E.g., Do you like swimming? Do you eat breakfast every day? etc.) Encourage them to write sentences that contain all four uses of the simple present, if they can. Have students circulate among their classmates. When a classmate answers yes, the student can write that classmate’s name beside the question. As a class, get students to report back their findings to you once everyone is finished. (E.g., Hee Young eats breakfast every day.)

Are you ready to present the present?

Tanya

     

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Tanya Trusler

Tanya is a freelance editor and writer with an extensive background as an ESL teacher. She edits lesson plans, creates new materials, and writes weekly blog posts for ESL-Library and Sprout English. Her company is Editing to a T. Follow her on Twitter (@tanyatrusler) and Google Plus.

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