Simple Present and Present Progressive Games and Activities

This long list of classroom ideas and resource material was originally created as part of a presentation I did for a MATESOL course at San Francisco State University. I have tried to cite and link appropriately. If you are one of the authors or publishing companies mentioned here, and you would like to be removed from this page, please don't hesitate to send me an e-mail.

Introduction and Resource Recommendations

Some of the following ideas and activities have been inspired by activities fromteacher resource books and grammar textbooks. (Please see "References for Practice Activities" for complete bibliographic citations.) My favorite grammar resource books are: Grammar Games, More Grammar Games, Grammar Practice Activities, and New Ways in Teaching Grammar. All of these books are packed with great ideas for teaching a full range of grammatical structures. Most books include an index which sorts activities by grammatical structure. (You should note that some books refer to the present progressive as the present continuous.)

Obviously, there are hundreds of ESL grammar textbooks on the market. A few which I recommend for beginning and low intermediate students are: Basic English Grammar (Azar), Grammar Dimensions, books one and two, and Focus on Grammar, beginning and intermediate books. All of these textbooks include in-depth coverage of the simple present and present progressive.

Focused Practice

1. Oral Drills are a very structured way to introduce students to a new grammatical structure. Depending on the drill, you can either call on students individually or ask the class for a chorale response. Either way, the drill should move quickly.

2. Scrambled Sentences are an excellent way to practice grammar recognition and syntax. You give students all the words to form one sentence in mixed-up order. Students then re-arrange the words to form a grammatically correct sentence.

Another great version of this game requires you prepare sentences in advance on index cards (one word per index card) and put the cards in numbered envelopes (one envelope per sentence). Students then compete in small groups to successfully arrange the words in all the envelopes. (You need about twice as many envelopes as you have groups.) You keep track of the groups and the envelopes they've completed on the board. You could try either of these activities by using sentences from an actual newspaper article or advertisement. Then you could pass out copies of your "source" for reading and discussion when the activity is over.

3. Student Surveys make for fun reading and writing practice. You could do a short activity by using a real survey (There are many good ones in women's magazines.), though for beginning students it's probably better for them to create their own.

Eating Habits and Food

Please circle the response which describes you best.

  1. I eat breakfast.
    • Always Sometimes Rarely Never
  2. I drink coffee in the morning.
    • Always Sometimes Rarely Never
  3. I enjoy fast food from McDonald's or Burger King.
    • Always Sometimes Rarely Never
  4. I eat meat with my dinner.
    • Always Sometimes Rarely Never
  5. I cook my own food.
    • Always Sometimes Rarely Never

4. Picture Dictations provide a fun way for students to practice listening skills.

5. Short Speeches (2-5 minutes per student) can be prepared for homework and presented in class. It's probably best not to interrupt the student at all during his/her speech. You can use index cards (one per student) to provide individual feedback, or you can just take notes and review the target grammar and vocabulary after all the students have presented their speeches. Using English (p. 24) suggests the following topic to practice the present progressive (The use here is emotional comment on present habit): Think about a friend or relative who annoys or amazes you. Tell how you feel about this person and what he or she is always doing that annoys or amazes you.

6. Chain Stories work really well when you give the class some structure. To practice the simple present for habitual action try starting the story with, "John always has a busy day. He wakes up at 6:00 o'clock every morning. At 6:10 he..." You write this at the top of the board and ask a student to continue the story. Each student continues the story by adding an original sentence, which you write on the board. It's my experience that this works best if you provide each student with a prompt ("after breakfast," "at 7:30," "then," "next," "before he eats lunch, etc...").

Communicative Practice

1. Find Someone Who is a fun classroom activity which can be adapted for use with several different structures including simple past, past progressive, present perfect, and past perfect. Please note that you can only use this activity for the simple present/present progressive if you have covered yes/no question formation.

2. Pair Interviews can be conducted on a variety of topics. This type of activity should only be used for the simple present and present progressive if you are teaching yes/no and wh- question forms at the same time. (Many grammar books do.) Students can either prepare questions in class or for homework. Using English (p. 24) and Basic English Grammar (p. 68) both suggest interviews on daily habits and routines to practice the simple present. Students should report back on their interviews in either oral or written form.

3. Guessing Games are a fun way for beginners to review vocabulary words, practice forming structures, and listen for meaning.

4. Role-plays are an active way for younger and beginning students to practice using new grammar. Possible scenarios for the simple present/present progressive include: dilemmas to practice emotional comment on present action ("I have a problem."), commercials to practice timeless truths ("Prota is the best laundry detergent in the world. It smells great..."), and desires.

5. Picture Activities are a good way to use real pictures from magazines, catalogs, and newspapers. For practicing simple present and present progressive, it's best to choose pictures with a lot of action or activity.

6. Impromptu Speeches differ from "Short Speeches" (above) in that students choose a topic from a hat or paper bag and must perform immediately. (Okay, you can give them a minute or so to get their thoughts together.) Many broad topics (for example, "marriage," "children," "homework") work well for practicing the simple present.

References and Recommended Resources

Azar, Betty Schrampfer. Basic English Grammar. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents, 1984.

Badalamenti, Victorian and Henner-Stanchina, Carolyn. Grammar Dimensions, Book One, Form, Meaning, and Use. Boston: Heinle and Heinle Publishers, 1993.

Bartram, Mark and Walton, Richard. Correction: A Positive Approach to Language Mistakes. Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications, 1991.

Celce-Murcia, Marianne and Larsen-Freeman, Diane. The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course. Boston: Heinle and Heinle Publishers, 1983.

Clark, Raymond, ed. Index Card Games for ESL Pro Lingua Associates

Danielson, Dorothy and Porter, Patricia. Using English Your Second Language. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents, 1990.

Fuchs, Marjorie, Westheimer, Miriam, and Bonner, Margaret. Focus On Grammar, Volume A, An Intermediate Course for Reference and Practice. White Plains, NY: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994.

Hartmann, Pamela, Zarian, Anette A., and Esparza, Patricia A. Tense Situations: Tenses in Contrast and Context. Westlake Village, CA: IPS Publishing, Inc., 1984.

Nation, Paul, ed. New Ways in Teaching Vocabulary. Alexandria, VA: TESOL, 1994.

Nunan, David and Miller, Linday, eds. New Ways in Teaching Listening. Alexandria, VA: TESOL, 1995.

Olsen, Judy Winn-Bell. Communication Starters and Other Activities for the ESL Classroom. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Alemany Press, Prentice Hall Regents, 1977.

Pennington, Martha, ed. New Ways in Teaching Grammar. Alexandria, VA: TESOL, 1995.

Riggenbach, Heidi and Samuda, Virginia. Grammar Dimensions, Book 2A, Form, Meaning, and Use. Boston: Heinle and Heinle Publishers, 1993.

Rinvolucri, Mario and Davis, Paul. Dictation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Rinvolucri, Mario and Davis, Paul. More Grammar Games. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Rinvolucri, Mario. Grammar Games: Cognitive, Affective and Drama Activities for EFL Students. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Tom, Abigal and McKay, Heather. The Card Book. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Alemany Press, Prentice Hall Regents, 1991

Ur, Penny. Grammar Practice Activities: A Practical Guide for Teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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