Imaginative suggestions for teaching the present and past simple tenses to children.
I am a teacher at a primary school in Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina. I teach children in 5th and 6th grade (10 to 13 years old). I don't want to bore them with drilling exercises, but I need them to get and use without hesitation the present simple and past simple tenses. I am squeezing my brains, but I can't find an imaginative and effective way of practising them. What would you recommend?
Since the present simple and the past simple together make up the vast majority of verb forms in English (I think the figure is 80% of English texts consists of one or the other), virtually anything you do in class – in the way of songs, games, stories, and conversation, for example – is going to provide practice in one or the other of the two forms. But don’t expect them to be able to use them without hesitation and accurately. In order to develop fluency and accuracy, you will need to balance speaking activities – like guessing games and 'show and tell' – where they can get used to speaking in 'real time', with group writing tasks, where they 'publish' their writing for the rest of the class to read. For this age group, you might try some of the ideas below for the present simple and past simple.
1. Guessing games:
Using yes/no questions: What animal am I? What’s my job? What famous (living) person am I?
2. Speaking tasks: 'show and tell' e.g. my hobby; my pet; my family, etc.
3. Group writing tasks:
Design a pop group (including the likes/dislikes, hobbies, habits etc. of the band members); design a monster (what it eats, what it looks like, its daily routine); a day in the life of a famous person; a typical day in the life of a boy or girl from different countries round the world; or science projects (e.g. What is global warming?; or The Carbon Cycle; or From Egg to Frog; or How an Eclipse Happens). All of these provide practice in the present simple.
1. Guessing games:
Who was I in a past life? What did I do in the weekend?
'Alibis' – you establish that a 'crime' was committed at a certain time (e.g. between 10 and 11 last night) and at a place familiar to the students, e.g. their school. Two students are accused of committing the crime – how can they prove their innocence? – by having an alibi. Their job, then, is to go outside and invent a story as to what they were both doing together (very important that they were together) while the rest of the class plans general questions they can ask them.
The two 'culprits' are then interviewed, individually and one after the other, to see if their stories are consistent. If there are any differences, then clearly they are guilty! Two more students then have a turn to create a new alibi. If you have a very large class, break the class up into groups of about five or six to play the game.
3. Speaking tasks:
'Headlines' – each student makes a headline that describes their last weekend, or holiday etc, e.g. Unsuccessful Shopping Trip! or Dog Goes to Vet! or Swimming Pool Too Crowded Again! In pairs they take turns to ask questions about each other’s story, and to tell each other what happened. Then – if possible – they can stand up, move around, and do the same with other students in the class.
4. Group writing tasks:
Wall presentations: On the dinosaurs; our heroes (i.e. famous people in the past who we admire); how our town/suburb was 100 years ago; etc.
Creative writing: A ghost story, a (funny) crime story set in their school; a science fiction story; a soap opera; jokes etc.
Chain stories: Each student writes the completion of the sentence 'It was a dark and stormy night and…' and then hands their paper to the next student, who continues the story with another sentences, and so on, until each story has been right round the class and come back to the student who started it. Then you can read some of these out.
Read them English versions of stories that are familiar to them in their own language; or tell them funny news stories – you can look on the internet for 'quirky' stories. Get students to write their own funny stories, and get them to bring some to class to tell the others.
Design a pop group (including the likes/dislikes, hobbies, habits etc. of the band members); design a monster (what it eats, what it looks like, its daily routine); a day in the life of a famous person; a typical day in the life of a boy or girl from different countries round the world; or science projects, like: What is global warming?; or The Carbon Cycle; or From Egg to Frog; or How an Eclipse Happens, etc. All these provide practice in the present simple.