Tenses review – a quickie


Having started teaching adults again, I faced a serious problem – forgetfulness 🙂 Especially, on the more advanced levels I meet people who used to learn English, and they can speak fluently, but when confronted with ‘let’s review perfect aspects today, eh?’ they go suspiciously silent. Well, it doesn’t really surprise me, as it’s really simple – if you don’t use more complex grammar every day, you’re bound to forget the rules and no wonder you’re not in the mood to deal with Future Perfect Continuous 🙂

So, just to make my – and my students’ – life easier, I’ve decided to make a cheat sheet for all the tenses & aspects, their uses and syntax. I’m happy to share it, but I’d also appreciate your insight – is there anything I have missed? Maybe I should add some details (was thinking about typical time expressions but decided against it, after all).

Anyway – you can find the cheat sheet here: Tenses review and I hope you’ll find it as useful as I do 🙂


Teacher, let’s watch a film…


How many times have you heard your students moaning these words? Well – I like watching films just like my students do, but I’m not really convinced that spending two hours on watching a film is a great educational idea – fortunately in all language schools I’ve worked, I haven’t been allowed to watch such long films: a nice excuse for the students. Of course, watching shorter videos is most recommended, and I really like adding them to my lessons as often as I have Internet access + screen.

But I also want my students to watch real films, the classics, simply because they learn some cultural references. I would love my students to know what’s on my mind when I listen to their rather pathetic excuses regarding lack of homework and simply say ‘Frankly, my dear…

Well, no student’s got the point yet 🙂 But I’ve made a nice bunch of them ‘remember, remember the fifth of November‘.

Anyways, I’ve come up with a couple of nice classroom activities regarding mostly short videos, but also some ideas about watching films.

  • Short videos

I have already included my favourite sites: TED (in a homework for my students) and slideshare (in a tense presentation).  The first one is an incredibly inspiring site full of real knowledge and education. The TEDed page is perfect for language students because they learn something real, not only English – highly beneficial.

The second site comes in handy with an interactive board/ projector when I want to explain grammar – I also email links to those students who want to understand something and I can’t explain it myself (subject from a public school lesson etc.). Sure, I could make my own presentations – but why bother if there are so many good ones available?

I like youtube just as much: videos, cartoons, songs (+karaoke) – everything to your heart’s content. I especially like watching short videos with the younger groups: reading comprehension is about volcanoes? Let’s watch a short documentary about them! Videos work as great motivators: if you finish this activity nicely, I’ll show you a nice video…

I have also happened to use EarthCam as a background in the classroom. What’s cosier in the grammar review November afternoon classes than cracking the exercises glancing from time to time at people in New York? Somehow the lesson gets less boring 🙂

  • Real films

I strongly believe cross-cultural communication should be a vital part of the classes – the students have to be reminded they don’t learn only grammar and vocabulary. Cultural references should be made a part of a language course on every level and age.  It’s really easy with the Internet now, isn’t it? But since we – the teachers – have to know what’s going on in our students’ cultural environment (memes, music, events), we should also make effort and bring some of the older references to those inexperienced padawans, eh? We’re on a mission from God!

How can you claim yourself a fluent English speaker if you cannot use the Force? Not to mention the Schwartz?  So many film, so little time… plus, I cannot watch the film the classroom. So, what can I do? Well, I do the evilest thing possible and make them an offer they can’t refuse: we choose the film at the beginning of a course and they have a couple of months to watch it . Then I make the writing part of the final exam based solely on the film they are to watch. Plus, I design the questions so that the students have to watch the film and no wikipedia would help them. Last year I made my pre-intermediate groups watch the Star Wars trilogy (just the old one, I’m a purist) and questions were like: what would you do if you were a Jedi. I could easily see who had really watched the film.

I’ve been thinking on some nice films a teacher can recommend and that’s the result:

  • Elementary level

Children: Enchanted, Home Alone, The Lion King and other Disney’s films

Young adults: Legally Blonde, Transformers

  • Pre-intermediate level

Children: Cars, Ice Age, Toy Story

Young adults: Indiana Jones series, Allo, allo

  • Intermediate level

Children: Harry Potter series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Young adults: Bend It Like Beckham, Friends, the Pirates of the Caribbean 

  • Upper-intermediate and advanced level

Young adults: V for Vendetta, Dead Poets Society, Mel Brook’s films

Not-at-all homework:

I have come up with a funny activity at the end of a lesson: show the students a trailer of a film they don’t know and make them work out what’s the film about (without using the Net!). Don’t tell them whether they’re right or not, just smile significantly and say you do like their stories.

I’ll bet half of them will either watch the film or read a full synopsis before the next lesson!

Present Perfect Simple

Teaching 9-15 years old students I usually use this presentation:

Present Perfect Presentation by Jose Salazar

My absolutely favourite tense – probably because we don’t have it in Polish (only present, past and future, easy peasy, hrhrhr). It takes some time for poor students to get it, so I usually tell them the things they have to learn by heart:

  1. Present Perfect is a present tense (EFL books comparing it to Past Simple great mystery of teaching?)
  2. This tense is a parasite

It appears that once you paraphrase ‘Pr.Perf. is about past actions with present consequences’ with ‘Pr. Perf. tells us about present consequences of past actions’  it gets easier to remember (importance of emphasis, I guess). To make this fishy tense easier to get I use the following ways:

  • The Pirates of the Carribean

Do you remember the Black Pearl ship? If so, imagine YOU are Black Pearl and suddenly a wild Kraken attacks! Its tentacles crashes you in the deadly embrace and death is near. Now – are you more concerned with those tentacles or maybe you ponder on where did this kraken come from? The pressing issue of tentacles seems more important, right? And this is Present Perfect itself: you are not worried where did an action happened (ie. where did the kraken come from) but what are its consequences (or, in this case, tentacles).

  • Zombie attack! (or Monster Under the Bed version)

You’re home alone, suddenly you hear knocking on the door. Convinced that it’s your family or friends, you open the door… but there’s a real live (or rather undead) zombie which doesn’t waste time but attacks you grabbing your limb and chewing it enthusiastically (scrumptious, don’t know why children love this part). I don’t think you worry about the beginning of zombie apocalypse, but rather focus on your limb (or lack of it if you think really slowly). And that is Present Perfect again, thinking about the consequences of your rather unwise action of opening the door without asking ‘who’s there’. Nice story + a good lesson for children to check before they open the door and be prepared for zombie apocalypse.

Sometimes I change zombie for a Monster Under the Bed, story is the same, it depends on students’ choice (which story do you want?).

I must admit that students’ general comprehension of this tense has improved since I started using those stories. The next important issue is that Present Perfect is a parasite, always relying on another tense, never to exist alone. When are the consequences of Present Perfect visible – at present: I’ve stupidly opened the door and now a zombie eats my limb/ Kraken has attacked me and now I’m crashed in its deadly embrace. Even if you don’t say the consequences explicitly, they are always there.

Now, these are my ideas of presenting this fantastic tense (I really love it and feel its lack in my native language). What are yours? Maybe you use some games or websites?