Tips and ideas for working with the present perfect continuous.

The meanings and uses of perfect tenses can be confusing for students. However, if your teaching ideas are interesting or humorous, they may help the language become more comprehensible and memorable. Here are a few thoughts about working with the present perfect continuous tense, although the ideas are applicable to many other grammar points.

Teach idioms alongside grammar

Single, dry, "grammar book" example sentences without a context can be uninspiring and hard to recall. Instead, try thinking of short, realistic, natural exchanges that include the target language alongside one or two new phrases or idioms (e.g. Where on earth…?) that students will enjoy learning.

For example:
Mike (standing outside a cinema): Where on earth have you been? I've been waiting for ages! 
Jenny: I’m so sorry, Mike. I completely forgot! 

Teach the intonation; let the grammar teach itself

When using lively, short dialogues (such as the Mike/Jenny one) try putting your main correction energy into helping students to read them back with convincing intonation. You may find that students learn the grammar faster when they don’t focus directly on it – but instead pay attention to another aspect of language that helps them to memorise the structure they’re using.

When explanation fails, let examples do the work

Sometimes, the more you give careful, detailed explanations about the meaning and use of items, the more confused students get. They almost certainly need some explanatory guidance but often it’s more useful to direct that energy towards hearing, saying or acting out short exchanges and letting the understanding happen “by itself” over time.

By exposing students to many examples of language in use they will be better able to start working out for themselves what the items mean and in which typical situations they are used. For example, try showing students flashcard pictures of various scenes and letting them hear you read out what the characters are saying. Or give students the pictures and ask them to match the scenes to your sentences.

Two-line role-plays

You could also try some ultra-mini-role-plays! Think of some situations (like the Mike/Jenny one) where the target language can be used. These can be cartoon-like in humour but the language still needs to be realistic and natural.

For example, at a border post between two countries –
Customs Officer: How long have you been living in our country? 
Traveller: Too long! 

Model the exchange yourself and ask students to repeat it until they can say it well; then ask them to work in pairs, acting out the dialogue. Later, get students to invent new dialogues themselves from your prompts, for example:

  • It’s night time. Person A is a librarian closing the library when you find a very tired Person B with a lot of books in front of them. Ask B how long he/she has been studying.
  • Person B is an angry customer in a bank queue. Complain to Person A, a bank worker, about how long you have been waiting.

You could ask students to perform the best or funniest dialogue for the whole class to see.