Tips for teaching present simple

Teaching present simple is anything but simple because of the ways in which the present simple tense can be used.

The impact of teaching present simple means that it is something that needs to be clearly defined and contextualised.

The present simple can be used for:

  • Stating facts
  • The expression of states
  • The expression of uncertainty using words related to: desires, wishes and expectations
  • Showing the frequency of actions with a time clause
  • Indicating measurements
  • Indicating future actions

The present simple has the following attributes:

  • factual,
  • temporal,
  • subjunctive.

Not bad for a “simple” tense!

Here are a few present simple constructions when teaching present simple

Expressing a fact (unchangeable)

  • “My name is David.”
  • “This car weighs 1,500 kilogrammes.”
  • “Fish live in water.”

Expressing a state (subject to change)

  • “I am happy.”
  • “Denise is hungry.”
  • “The baby is asleep.”

Expressing uncertainty (subjunctive)

  • “I hope I get the job.”
  • “He thinks he has the right answer.”
  • “John wishes he could go to Paris.”

Expressing action frequency with a time clause

  • “I play golf twice a week.”
  • “Elizabeth eats breakfast every day.”
  • “Flights to New York depart three times a week.”

Indicating measurements

  • “The room measures 5 metres by 3 metres.”
  • “The height of this tree is 10 metres.”
  • “The speedometer shows 60 miles per hour.”

Future actions (with a future reference)

  • “The flight leaves tomorrow at 10:30 pm.
  • “I travel to Buenos Aires next Thursday.”
  • “The first one who finishes will be the winner.”

As you can see, there is nothing simple about the present simple. It is a very flexible verb tense.

Tips for teaching present simple

The trick to teaching present simple it is to start from the basic form of expressing facts and then build from there. How you build from it is a decision you must take based on your student’s skill set. Our suggested progression is:

  1. Stating facts
  2. The expression of states
  3. Indicating measurements
  4. Showing the frequency of actions with a time clause
  5. The expression of uncertainty using words related to: desires, wishes and expectations
  6. Indicating future actions

When you present and teach each usage:

  • make sure that your examples are truly unambiguous,
  • make them simple,
  • include lots of exercises,
  • get your students to practice out loud,
  • do not let each distinct usage overlap and get fuzzy until the 6 usages have been understood,
  • do not get side-tracked into other usages while you are teaching one of them.

The present simple is probably the most used tense in English. Understanding how it can be used is crucial to progression towards the other tenses. Teaching the present simple is no different to teaching other aspects of English. It is vital to isolate your material into distinct but related chunks. By doing this you help your students by showing them things in quantities that they can more easily absorb. Like all learning experiences, English must be taught bit by bit in manageable, related and coherent chunks that follow a logical structure and build upon previously learned skills.

If you aren’t a teacher and would like to learn more or would like your teaching staff to be properly trained, contact us.

Teaching present simple wall chart visual aid

Below is a wall chart we published to help your learners. Feel free to download it and use it in your school or classroom.

The full-size version of our present simple wall chart is available here

Teaching English grammar - the uses of the present simple

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