Posted 3/12/07

Sometimes students tell me that they would like to do a revision lesson. I ask them what they would like to revise and they say, “Verbs, of course”. Then I say, “What aspect of verbs would you like to revise?” and they reply, “Oh, you know – the past, the present, the future, and things like that.” I say, “So you would like to revise the tenses?” and they say, “Yes”. Here is a tense revision activity that requires minimal preparation and materials.
  • Language level: Elementary to Intermediate (A2-B1)
  • Learner type: Young learners; Teens; Adults
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Activity: Writing sentences
  • Topic: Grammar
  • Language: The tenses
  • Materials: None
The English tenses pdf [downloaded 24962 times]

Lesson plan outline

  1. Ask a volunteer students to draw a picture of an unhappy person on the board.
  2. Ask your students to give the unhappy person a name and invent details about his or her lifestyle. Ask questions such as: What does he/she do? Where does he/she live? Is he/she married? Etc.
  3. Elicit as many reasons as possible from your students to explain why the person is unhappy. Write these on the board. You can make suggestions too. Make sure you get a sentence for each of the following:
    * To be (e.g. … because it’s Sunday night)
    * The present tense
    (e.g. … he has to go to work tomorrow)
    * Present continuous
    (e.g. … it’s raining / his girlfriend is giving him a hard time)
    * Present perfect
    (e.g. … he has lost his cat / he has been dumped)
    * Will/won’t
    (e.g. … his vegetarian wife won’t let him eat sausages)
    * Can/can’t
    (e.g. … he can’t afford to go on holiday)
    * Has got
    (e.g. … he’s got toothache)
  4. Ask your students to copy the sentences (if they haven’t already done so) and then rub the board clean, but leave the unhappy face intact.
  5. Now ask your students if they believe in time travel. Tell them that everyone is going to travel exactly one year into the future. Rub out your unhappy person’s sad mouth and replace it with a happy one.
  6. Ask your students to close their books and recall (from memory) all the reasons that the person was unhappy a year ago. Write these on the board with the altered language. For example:
    * It was Sunday night
    * He had to go to work the next day (but he’s on holiday at the moment).
    * It was raining (but now it’s sunny).
    * He had lost his cat (but he found it again)
    * His vegetarian wife wouldn’t let him eat sausages (but they got divorced)
    * He couldn’t afford to go on holiday (but now he’s rich)
    * He had a headache (but he feels great now).
  7. Finally, ask your students to describe the grammatical changes that took place during the transition. Write these on the board.
Present simple Past simple
Present continuous Past continuous
Present perfect Past perfect
Will Would
Can Could
Have got Had

Follow ups

  • Ask students to write a story about the character. What has he been doing during the last year? Why is he so happy?
  • Make a note of all the language that arose by photographing the whiteboard. You will then be able to make gap fills or other exercises for students to revise the points in question.


After step 2, ask students to recall and write down all the questions you asked about the unhappy person.


English teachers are sometimes asked why the Present Perfect is called the Present Perfect when it refers to things that happened in the past. Hopefully, this activity answers that question: Those past actions have an immediate and direct effect on a present state. In this case, Barry is unhappy (now) because:

* He’s been fired.
* His dog’s been run over.
* He’s been arrested for a crime he didn’t commit (so he says.)

During the second part of the activity, students are able to compare the Present and Past Perfect, and perhaps this can clarify things further.

Posted 3/12/07

19 Responses to The English tenses

  1. Hi Mark – This is a fantastic website that you have developed. Thank you so much for all the ideas and creativity that you share here. I particularly like this lesson about revising the different tenses. Students often believe that simply by listening to grammar they will be able to learn the language. Your ideas promote using the language and examining the reasons why and how verbs change. I will definitely try this out with a group of learners soon.
    Thanks again for sharing your work, I’m sure I’ll be coming back again and again.

    • Webmaster says:

      Thanks Mike, but I have to say all the content was created by Jamie Keddie. I’m just the humble web developer. Thanks none the less – I especially like the line “This is a fantastic website that you have developed“!

  2. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Mike
    Thanks very much for the great feedback at this early stage! Really glad you like the tense activity. I’ll be interested to hear how you get on with it if you decide to use it.

  3. Saartje says:

    I just wanted to say that I used a part of this lesson today in one of my classes to explain the difference in use between the present perfect and the simple past. I really liked it and i definitely think that the students liked it too!

    So thank you for posting this on your website!

    Kind regards

  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Saartje
    Thanks very much for the feedback. Sounds like you did a good job. By the way, it occurs to me that the most recent lesson plan that I have uploaded (Lying on the pavement: ) is also good for revising/teaching perfect tenses.
    Just thought I would mention that
    Jamie :-)

  5. Jane says:

    Just wanted to thank you for sharing your lessons with us. This one was great for my beginner to pre-intermediate staff group this morning. The amount of vocabulary and grammar it brought up was incredible. We covered a lot and so I left half an hour (of the two hour session) for them to do your follow-up suggestion of creative writing about the person they’d created. I also introduced personal info via an MP3 from the BBC Learning English website called Private Lives 6 where a real person talks about herself and her life. Thanks again!

  6. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Jane
    It’s interesting to hear that this went well for you. Feel free to post links to any of your students’ stories (with their consent). Am always interested see things from that angle as well!
    Jamie :-)

  7. I think that it is important to use verbs but in context, you can write on the boar, let´s see, speak, spoke,spoken and a fourth column with the word English. Try to introduce a noun at the beginning of the sentence, so, they speak English, they spoke english and the third with have, they have spoken english, don´t you think it is easier?

  8. sorry, I wrote but everyhing disappeared, well what I said was that it is easier to teach verbs in context, let´s suppose:
    write wrote have written many business letters
    join the verbs with the pronoun,say they, so,
    they write many business letters, they wrote many business letters
    they have written many bsuiness letters
    Wasn´t it easier?

  9. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Nelson
    I think I see what you mean. Sounds like a pretty good idea.
    I like to put individual words into bigger structures (chunks, sentences, etc) because it increases drilling and chanting possibilities. I don’t know if I would call that context though – reconstituted environments, perhaps!

    So the following three phrases have a rhythm that can be exploited for a drill chant:

    * I write letters
    * You wrote an email
    * He’s written a book

    But there is an immediate accessibility (and memorability?) to verb triplets like write-wrote-written; eat-ate-eaten; see-saw-seen, etc. Perhaps the simplicity is part of their popularity. Compare it with Spanish, French or German verb conjugations which require pages for a single irregular verb. So if the triplet system works for learners, then I wouldn’t want to interfere.
    Thanks for the comment
    Jamie :-)

  10. Jenny says:

    Thank you Jamie! I don’t know how you find the time to do it all, but you save me and many others time and give us inspiration on a regular basis! I don’t know how I managed before using your site! You are a complete star!

  11. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Jenny!
    I really like your comment. So nice to know that you are making good use of the site.
    Thanks you
    Jamie :-)

  12. Sinead says:


    I too really enjoyed using this lesson today and the students produced some good language. I used it with an upper-intermediate group, but varied it by giving them two minutes to remember the original sentences and then travelling forward in time and having them recall the sentences in pairs and transforming them. The fast finishers came to the board to write their sentences and then we corrected them together. Quite challenging after pub night, but we got there in the end and I think everyone learned/remembered something. Thanks, great site, great lessons!

  13. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Sinead
    I like your variation. I think that it is a great technique to ask students to spend a minute or two, in silence, trying to memorise as much as possible from the board (for example, before the teacher cleans it). It gives the teacher a break as well!
    Thanks for your comment
    Jamie :-)

    – it is a great technique to ask students to

  14. lucila Quartim Barbo says:

    Hi Jamie! I just loved the lesson about “infinitives of purpose” as in the “Why did the chicken cross the road”? And after eliciting from them all the possibilities, to wrap it up at the very end of the class I just negotiated chocolate for the fastest studentswho would email me with the right answer from wikipedia.
    Many thanks” I’ll keep doing my best to bring you to Icbeu são josé dos Campos, brazil, as soon as possible.
    Best regards

  15. RAJIV MISHRA says:

    Hi, your idea helped me a lot to make my class easy and interesting.

  16. Jamie Keddie says:

    Great to hear it Rajiv
    Thanks for ypu comment
    Jamie :)

  17. Aimee says:

    Hi, Jamie. I use this lesson almost every semester in B1+ and my students usually really get into it. It’s a natural way to point out the trickiness around “has got”, too. The only thing that bothers me (and this obviously is not your fault!) is that, as a feminist, I get irritated that, while I always ask them to draw a picture of an unhappy person, they systematically draw a picture of an unhappy *man*! Maybe I should just take away from that the idea that somehow women are happier than men or something.

    Take care,