Twelve Steps to Introduce the Present Perfect Tense for the First Time

Most students who have learned English as a foreign language often use only three tenses: present, past and future. They rarely use the present perfect tense as it is one the tenses that is soon forgotten or replaced easily with simple past tense.

Students don’t realize the importance of present perfect tense. If they know this importance, they will try to master it. To ensure that your students will use this tense, you must teach it right. This article provides some clear steps that will help you teach the present perfect tense effectively.

* Introduce the present perfect tense with regular verbs:

1. Give examples in the simple past tense: e.g. yesterday, I received two emails. I visited my grandmother once… etc. then give the examples in the present perfect: e.g. I have received two emails today. I have visited my grandmother once this month.

2. Show students how the present perfect is formed: e.g. have/has + pp (= past participle) telling them that pp of regular verbs ends in “ed” just as in the simple past.

3. Explain when the present perfect is used by contrasting finished and unfinished time. Ask students: Is yesterday finished? (they should say: Yes, it’s finished). Then ask them: Is today finished? (they should say: No, it isn’t)

4. On the board, draw two columns. On the top of the left write: Yesterday, Last .. , 2000, etc. and write examples (only with regular verbs) that go with finished time. On the top of the right write: Today, This day, This week, This month, … etc. and write examples (only with regular verbs) that go with unfinished time.

5. Tell students the difference between the two tenses. E.g. Last month, I received two emails and “Last month is finished”. This month, I have received only two emails. But this month is not finished so I may receive more emails before the month is over.

6. Give more examples with regular verbs, in all persons and ask students to tell the difference.

* introduce the present perfect with irregular verbs:

7. Divide the board into three columns and write some irregular verbs in the first column, their simple past form in the second column, and finally the irregular past participle in the third one.

8. Give examples as you go over each verb: e.g. I’ve had two cups of tea today. I’ve read one book this week. I’ve met Ahmed once this month … etc. Make sure that students have a list of irregular verbs and then they can provide more examples with other irregular verbs from this list.

* introduce the negative form of the present perfect.

9. Say, “I saw my grandmother last week. I haven’t seen her this week.” And give more examples alternating between affirmative in simple past and negative form of present perfect. E.g. I went to Cairo last year, but I haven’t been there this year.

10. Write some affirmative statements in present perfect on the board and ask students to give their negative forms, and you can introduce the use of “yet” here.

* introduce the interrogative form of the present perfect:

11. Model questions with “have” and elicit from students: Yes, I have or No, I haven’t and then change the person using “has” eliciting from students: Yes, she has or No, she hasn’t.

12. continue with questions using question words and model these questions writing them on the board and making sure that you write questions in all persons both singular and plural. Make sure that students understand that if they answer questions with “when, where and why” referring to a specific time in the past, they need to use the simple past tense.

Naturally, students should be taught the other uses of the present perfect with already, just, ever, never, for, since, etc. In this article we covered only the best steps to follow to introduce the present perfect for the first time and contrast it with the simple past, i.e. the distinction between finished and unfinished time. Once students understand this distinction, they will be ready to understand everything else.

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Eight Practical Steps to Teach Grammar Rules

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  1. Start with questions that lead to model sentences in which the grammatical rule is included.

E.g. How long have you been learning English?

How long have they been playing football?

How long has she been cooking pizza? Etc.

  1. Encouraging students to answer the questions in complete sentences using the grammatical rule and write the model sentences on the board.
  2. Read the sentences focusing on the main features of the rule (highlight the form with different colour or by underlining them).
  3. Tell students the function and the meaning of the grammatical rule, when to use it and how to apply it in communication.
  4. Encourage students to do some different and various exercises on the rule to familiarize them with it. Check understanding and involve as many students as possible.
  5. Elicit the form of the rule from students and write it on the board.
  6. Ask students to give more meaningful examples of the rule.
  7. Give more practice of the rule creating real-life situations for students to use the rule in.

Your belief about learning and teaching grammar

Read the following two teachers’ points of view for teaching grammar and tell me to what extent you agree or disagree and justify your decision.

1. Before beginning any unit, I always look over it in the book to know the grammar rule it includes. I start the lesson with explaining that rule directly: its meaning, form and function. And then do some exercises with the class on it. I think that really helps students to do the activities well and they learn better that way.

2. I think there is no need to teach grammar explicitly or explain the rules directly. Learners will pick them up later for themselves. The precious time of the period should be focused on using the language on communication and practicing as much English as possible by students’ interaction. If they want grammar, they can be given exercises to do at home and be corrected outside the class.