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.

  • Form Activity: Form drill for simple present negative statements
  • Grammar: Students practice forming simple present negative statements
  • Procedure: The teacher provides a sentence in the affirmative; students change it to the negative.
    • Example:
    • Teacher: Mary knows Jim.
    • Students (chorale response): Mary doesn't know Jim.
    • Teacher: John likes that book.
    • Students (chorale response): John doesn't like that book.
  • Usage Activity: Meaningful drill for simple present habitual action
  • Grammar: Practice simple present statements with adverbs of frequency
  • Procedure: The teacher calls on students individually and provides an activity. Students create sentences with always, usually, often, sometimes, seldom, rarely, or never to describe their usual habits after 5:00 p.m. every day.
    • Example:
    • Teacher: Junko, eat dinner.
    • Junko: I always eat dinner after five o'clock.
    • Teacher: Luis, watch TV.
    • Luis: I usually watch TV after five o'clock.

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.

  • Form Activity: Scrambled sentences on the blackboard
  • Grammar: Any (Here I'm using present progressive negative statements.)
  • Procedure: Each student needs his/her own sheet of paper. You write words on the blackboard then give students a few minutes to form a sentence. Students work individually. Students raise their hands when they think they've formed a good sentence. You walk over and check. Once most of the class has the answer, write the sentence on the board and ask if anyone has questions.
  • Example: The teacher writes the following words on the board: brother, not, dinner, cooking, is, my. Students work independently to re-arrange these words into, "My bother is not cooking dinner."

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.

  • Writing/Reading Activity: Student surveys
  • Grammar: Simple present for habitual action
  • Procedure: Students work in small groups in class, each group creating one survey. (If your school has a computer lab, now's the time to use it.) to practice the simple present for habitual action. Surveys should include boxes to check which say "always," "sometimes," "rarely," "never." Students then construct sentences (10-15 sentences per survey) around an assigned topic.

    Some topics for the simple present are: entertainment, hobbies, music, family, food, sports, and English. As the students are working in small groups, you assist with the writing where necessary. Once the surveys are in final form, you collect and check them. Then, make multiple copies for the next class meeting. Pass out the surveys so that every student gets a copy of every survey. Give the students enough time to respond to all the surveys. Encourage them to ask their classmates who wrote the surveys for clarifications. Once the students have responded to all the surveys, they should meet with their groups again to tally the responses. Each group then gives a short presentation of the results to the whole class.
  • Example: The following is a sample survey on eating habits and food.

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.

  • Listening Activity: Drawing dictation
  • Grammar: For practice with the simple present/present progressive, describe a scene with a lot of action.
  • Procedure: First, give each student a plain white sheet of copy paper. Explain that you are going to describe a scene. This is not a traditional dictation. Students should not write down your description; rather, they should draw it. Students should not look at anyone else's paper while they are drawing. When you finish your description, give the students a few minutes to compare their drawings. Then you can either show them your picture and ask for questions or you can have the students repeat the scene back to you and you can draw it on the board. You can adapt the scene in the picture to include any vocabulary your class has recently covered.
  • Example: Students draw as the teacher provides the following description: In the top right hand corner a man is swimming in the ocean. There are several boats on the horizon. In the top left hand corner the sun is shining brightly. At the bottom of your page is the beach. A little girl is standing on the beach. She is crying.

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.

  • Usage Activity: "Find Some Who" (This is my own version. Other versions of this activity can be found in Grammar Practice Activities, p.237 and Using English , pp. 23, 29.)
  • Grammar: many different structures are possible. Here, I'm using simple present and present progressive
  • Procedure: You should create a handout with two column chart. Title the first column "Find someone who..." and the second column "Sentence." Under the first column list 15-25 actions/states of being. (The more you list, the longer this activity will take.) You should begin by reviewing interrogatives in the present/present progressive. Next, describe a task similar to the ones listed in the first column of the chart. (For example, "plays the piano.") Ask around the room until you find someone who fits the description. (For example, "Hee Jung, do you play the piano?") Then note down the first affirmative answer in a complete sentence on the board. (For example, "Hee Jung plays the piano.")

    Pass out one sheet to each student and explain that they are going to get up and walk around the room. They should ask their classmates questions in order to find someone to fit with each of the descriptions. Students can write down their results in complete sentences, like the one you wrote on the board. They can also ask several questions of their own to find out more information about each activity. You can participate in this activity or you can circulate to monitor for difficulties. After the students have had enough time to complete most of the sheet, check the answers by asking publicly to a response to each task.
  • Examples: You can use the following activities in the first column of your chart:plays tennis, is living in a dorm, is working part time, likes this class very much, weighs 110 pounds, owns a car, and wants to visit India.

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.

  • Form & Meaning Activity: "Animal Habits" (from Grammar Practice Activities, p.256) Grammar: simple present to describe habitual action.
  • Procedure: For this activity students work in pairs or small groups to prepare a description of an animal. (For a longer activity have each group prepare 3-5 separate animal descriptions. Note that if you allow students to write out their descriptions, this becomes more like a focused practice activity.) Once students have prepared their descriptions, each group takes turns telling a description to the rest of the class, who then guess the name of the animal.
  • Example: A possible description of a rabbit could include, "It lives in a hole. It eats plants and vegetables. It has a lot of babies. It runs very fast."

  • Listening & Speaking/Usage Activity: "Where Am I?"
  • Grammar: present progressive to describe present time actions.
  • Procedure: One student comes to the front of the room and describes a place they would like to be. (You can give them a few minutes to prepare beforehand, but they shouldn't write out their descriptions.) Each student describes the activities happening in their place to the group. The group guesses where the place is.
  • Example: You can model this activity with the following description: "There are many people here. Some people are swimming. One little girl is building a sand castle. Where am I?" (Answer: you're at the beach.)

  • Form & Meaning Activity: "What's My Line?" (from Grammar Practice Activities, p. 257)
  • Grammar: simple present for habitual action and present progressive to describe present time actions, also interrogatives (Please note: you should use this activity only if you are covering yes/no question formation along with the simple present and present progressive.)
  • Procedure: Each student is given the name of a profession. Students take turns performing mimes showing some activity which a person would do in the course of the job. The rest of the class asks yes/no questions in the simple present or present progressive before guessing the profession. certain pages. In one game students create a daily schedule for a famous person.

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.

  • Form & Meaning Activity: Talk About a Picture
  • Grammar: simple present and present progressive
  • Procedure: Students work individually or in groups. Each student or group has a color picture from a magazine. You've prepared a sheet of generic instructions (or specific instructions if everyone is using the same picture) in advance, which you give to students orally. You can call on students individually to answer these questions, or if they are working in small groups, each group can discuss and write responses.
  • Example: Your instructions could include: tell four things that are happening now in the picture; tell four things that the person in the picture does every day; ask four questions about what is happening now; etc...

  • Listening & Speaking Activity: "Interrupt Me If I'm Wrong" (from New Ways in Teaching Listening, p. 117).
  • Grammar: simple present and present progressive for present time actions
  • Procedure: You should model this first; students get the hang of it right away and don't need explicit directions. Choose a picture from a magazine and begin to describe it to the class. However, you should make deliberate mistakes in your description. For example say "The woman is wearing a green dress," when really she's wearing a red dress. Most likely, someone in the class will correct you right away. If no one does, keep up with the description making it more and more ludicrous. As soon as you get a correction, say "Oh! You're right! Thank you, Carlos," and continue with your (faulty) description. Describe two or three pictures like this, then pass out magazines and tell students they're going to do the same thing. This activity is a lot of fun and is sure to get some laughs.

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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