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How to Teach Present Simple Versus Present Continuous Without Tears

How to Teach Present Simple Versus Present Continuous Without Tears

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Published by Claire Hart

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Published by: Claire Hart on May 30, 2011
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How to teach present simple versus present continuous without tearsLevel: Elementary to Intermediate (could also be useful for higher levels as arevision exercise)Time: 30- 90 minutes (depending on the group)Language Focus: Functions of present simple and present continuous andhow they contrast with each other.Skills: Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing
1. Start by telling the learners that you are going to show them the
uses/ functions 
tenses/ forms/ structures 
in English. Then draw two boxes on your board/ flipchart/ piece of paper and in the top one write:1)
permanent situations
routines2. Check that these terms are all familiar to the learners before you continue to drawanother box underneath the first in which you write:2)
live actions
something you´re in the middle of
start X end3. Check that these terms are also clear and highlight the meaning of the final pointin the second box: there is a start in the past (or before now) and an end in the future(or after now) and you are in the middle between the two.4. Make the point that we do not usually talk about our live actions (what we aredoing at the time when we´re speaking) because this is normally clear to the otherpeople we´re with. For example, saying: "I´m wearing a grey shirt today and I´msitting on a chair" is redundant language nearly all of the time. Elicit from the learnersthe situations in which they would possibly need to describe what they are doing atthe moment they are speaking or writing: these could be while talking on the phoneor writing an email, i.e. when the person you´re communicating with can´t actuallysee you or is in a different place to you, for example, during a video conference.5. Continue to avoid using the terms
present simple 
present continuous 
and goon to give the learners a few situations. They have to decide if this situation should
go into box 1(
present simple 
) or box 2 (
present continuous 
). These situations couldbe:
Where you live
Your current project
When you´re on holiday
Where you work
When you usually start work and go home
Your weekly meeting
Saying where you are on phone
Something you´re learning
What you do in your free timeYou can then write up the situations on the board or flipchart next to the box that theygo in.6. Once, while I was doing this activity, one member of the group- Heinz- was absentbecause he was on a business trip to Hamburg. I asked the rest of the group toconsider what box we would put "Heinz" "stay" "Hamburg" and "three days" into. Thiskind of personalisation seems to make the language come alive for the learners andgives them a situational memory which they can go back to when trying to rememberwhich tense to use.7. Don´t forget to highlight the fact that some activities or situations could go into bothboxes, depending on what the details are. We would usually put
where you live
intobox 1 (
present simple 
), but if you are only living in a place for a
limited/ short 
time andplan to leave it and go somewhere else, then it should go into box 2. The same canbe true of
where you work
if you are only working there for a
limited/ short 
Something you are learning
could also go into both boxes depending on the wayyou present it. If you say: "I learn English every Monday afternoon at work," this isclearly box 1 (
present simple 
), but if you say: "I´m learning some Italian before I goon holiday to Sardinia this summer," then this must be box 2 (
present continuous 
).Encourage the learners not to see things in black and white, but rather to appreciatethe shades of grey in between and the complexities of our real lives. This should alsohelp to make the language more real for them.8. It would also be a good idea not to exhaust the possibilities for activities orsituations which could go into one of the two boxes yourself, and to give the learnersthe chance to make their own suggestions and put them to the rest of the group. Thiswill also help with the personalisation aspect and give you, the teacher, a chance tosee how well they have assimilated the concepts you´ve presented them with.9. Finally, you can ask the learners which box, 1 or 2, is for the
present simple 
andwhich is for the
present continuous 
. Reassure them that´s it not a big problem if theydon´t know which is which and say that you´re just telling them this
for their information 
and not because it is very important that they know and remember it.Have the learners make a few short sentences using the
present simple 
present continuous 
, include negatives and he/ she/ it forms based on the activities andsituations that you have just discussed together.

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Amber Larner added this note
Thanks so much for this. I will use this for my first lesson with a group of Bengali speakers in Kolkata tomorrow. You've saved me so much time!
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