Verb Tense Exercises for ESL Students

Written by rebecca bagwell
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Verb Tense Exercises for ESL Students
Use practical exercises when teaching verb tenses to your ESL students. (writing image by Petro Feketa from

ESL students need a lot of practical experience using English in real-life situations. Verb tenses frustrate many ESL students because few languages have as many auxiliary words as English. Many ESL students understand the simple past, present and future tenses, but need extra verb-tense exercises to help with more complex English verb tenses.

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Plan a Trip

To practice the future continuous tense, plan a trip on paper with your ESL students. Have your students pick a location well known to all, perhaps a local attraction. Each student should create a sentence describing what they will be doing on the trip. Since the future continuous tense uses the auxiliaries "will be" plus a present participle such as "staying," they can make a sentence such as "We will be staying at the hotel for two nights." Allow your students to discuss particulars of the proposed trip before having to make their sentence, or assign each student one aspect of the trip such as transportation, costs, meals and so on. For more advanced ESL students, practice the conditional tense while planning your trip by making statements such as "If we have time, we can see both museums."

Prepare a Dish

To practice the present continuous tense, prepare a dish for a pretend cooking show. You do not have to use any special props, unless desired. Your ESL students can work in pairs or groups to prepare this verb tense exercise. Allow them to practice quietly before presenting to the entire class. All sentences should be only stated in the present continuous tense, such as "Next, we are adding a dash of salt while we are stirring the pot." They can demonstrate the actions if desired or simply describe what they would be doing. Review all the auxiliary words needed for the present continuous tense plus present participles.

Visit the Doctor

To practice the perfect tenses, give a medical history with a pretend visit to the doctor. Your ESL students do not have to give any personal information, and you can model a pretend medical history for them so they understand the information needed. They should include information such as how long they have lived in the area, where they have lived before, how long they have worked for a company, how long they have been married or in school, what kind of ailments their family has had and how long they have had pain or concerns. Make sure your ESL students understand when to use the perfect tense and the perfect continuous tense by modelling them in your verb tense exercises.

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