Schedule for Teaching Tenses
The following schedule is flexible and is based on class lengths of approximately one hour. It also is for students at an intermediate level or higher who have already learned the forms of be.
Day One: [Allow students time to take notes as you go along]
*For lower level students you can begin by writing a paragraph on the board that models all four past tenses. [as seen in the earlier explanation of tenses]. Otherwise,....
- Go over the formulas for the past tense verbs [simple, continuous, perfect, perfect continuous] writing them down in a list along the left side of the board.
- Next begin a past tense story on the center of the board with the simple past.
Last year Tom worked at McBurger.
- Ask students to tell you what else Tom was doing at the same time he worked at McBurger. Choose a good suggestion and add it to the story.
Last year Tom worked at McBurger. He was cooking burgers and serving them to customers.
- Ask students to tell you about something Tom had done before he got the job at McBurger.
Last year Tom worked at McBurger. He was cooking burgers and serving them to customers. He had studied at Hamburger University for a year to get this job.
- Finally, ask students to tell you about something else Tom had been doing before he got the job at McBurger.
Last year Tom worked at McBurger. He was cooking burgers and serving them to customers. He had studied at Hamburger University for a year to get this job. He had been dreaming about working at McBurger since he was a child.
- At this point, draw a time line and ask students to tell you where each tense should go along the line taking care to note that the past perfect and past perfect continuous happen before the simple past and past continuous. I usually also draw a line between the simple/continuous and perfect/perfect continuous formulas and label the first group: "Use these to talk about actions that happened or were happening in the past.", and the second group: "Use these to talk about actions that happened or were happening before the simple past or past continuous."
- *Special Note: If students don't seem to be getting the concept, do another short story. [Either write it yourself or elicit suggestions again.] Not every student will grasp the concept of the before tenses right off the bat, but with more examples and time to reflect, they will.
If students seem to be getting the concept, you can show them that they can substitute the simple past for the past perfect in their stories without changing the meaning. In other words, they have a choice of tenses to use.
He had studied/studied at Hamburger University for a year to get this job.
- Assign a practice exercise in which they write their own past tense story using each verb tense at least twice. If needed, ask them to diagram the tenses on a time line to check whether they're using the tenses correctly. A variation on this theme is for the teacher to begin a story with a prompt and ask the students to continue it.