What is a "tense" and why is it important?

As native speakers, we were never really taught formal English tenses.

We just learned them naturally, by speaking a lot.

If you ever took Spanish or French though, you'll know all about tenses.

The verbs in a sentence change based on the time frame in which they occurred. That is a tense.

And there are six major tenses in the English language. (There are lots more than that, but the others aren't as common and they are fairly easy considering they are just variations of the six major tenses.)

Here they are:

  1. Present Simple
  2. Present Continuous
  3. Future ("will" & "going to")
  4. Past Simple
  5. Past Continuous
  6. Present Perfect

I've had people argue with me that there is no such thing as a future tense, just a heads up.

In our case, considering we speak about the future using a particular grammar structure, for all effective purposes, it is a future tense, and our students need to know it in order to communicate effectively.


The next issue is how to teach these tenses.

Well, don't over-explain them.

Children learn English tenses just fine by interacting with their parents without their parents needing to give long, drawn-out grammar explanations.

Kids repeat everything they hear. Over and over.

Parents correct them at times by telling them how to say it correctly.

That's how we want to teach as well.

Tell the students what they need for a tense - a quick grammar explanation.

Then get them practicing it by hearing, speaking, reading and writing it A LOT.

That's it!

And that is exactly how the materials in the ESL Curriculum Membership are set up.

You'll find speaking pages with sentence starters that you can use with your students.

  • Start by using the example sentences, repeating them until the students have become familiar with the structure.
  • Then they can start changing words in the sentences to make them their own.
  • Then they can start making their own sentences in little back-and-forth Q&A activities with partners.
  • By the end of a class period, they will have said so many sentences in a particular tense that they will be doing it without thinking about it!!


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