Welcome to
ESL Printables, the website where English Language teachers exchange resources: worksheets, lesson plans,  activities, etc.
Our collection is growing every day with the help of many teachers. If you want to download you have to send your own contributions.





ESL Forum:

Techniques and methods in Language Teaching

Games, activities and teaching ideas

Grammar and Linguistics

Teaching material

Concerning worksheets

Concerning powerpoints

Concerning online exercises

Make suggestions, report errors

Ask for help

Message board


ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > difficulty with verb tenses    

difficulty with verb tenses


difficulty with verb tenses
Hi everyone!
This is about one of my students. He īs a 12-year-old, upper elementary. 

He īs not very strong in English anyway, but his biggest problem is in conjugating the verbs. He does moderately well in controlled exercises, when there is an example he has to follow and there is a choice between two tenses only. When things get more complex, eg when there īs no example or more tenses to use , he makes a mess out of the verbs. When he speaks he tends to use the base form of the verbs only, no matter if what he says is present, past or future.

I īve been working with him for some months now and tried some ways to overcome this problem, including much repetition for new grammar items, lots of revision exercises, board games, colour-coded worksheets (different colours for time words that signal different tenses) etc. Even though he seems to grasp it while we īre on it, the next time we meet it īs back to start again.

In the meanwhile his "classmate" let īs call him (it īs a group of two) has no problem whatsoever with verbs and tenses. He learns new forms easily and puts them readily in use in his speech and writing. So I guess it īs not a problem with my teaching methods. Or perhaps my methods are OK for the average student but there īs something I īm missing with my weak student. 

Any ideas, tips, suggestions for activities that might help would be very very welcome!

16 Apr 2013      


Have you thought of pointing out the time markers in sentences to help him choose the correct tense, especially when practicing mixed tenses? Teach him to analyse the sentence out loud (he can even do it in native language) before he chooses the correct tense. It will demand a great mental effort on his part at first but with time he will develop a habit of doing so silently and eventually faster.

E. g. She .... (already/see) this film. - The word already points out to the present perfect, present perfect is formed with the help of have/has + 3rd form or V-ed, the subject is she so we choose has, the verb see is irregular and the 3rd form is seen, we place already between have and seen, the result: She has already seen this film.


16 Apr 2013     


Hi Sophia. We do this anyway but it doesn īt seem to help.

During the lessons when a certain tense is specifically practiced, he will do fairly well. We īll do lots of practice till it seems that he has mastered it. Then, after some time has passed (let īs say 3-4 lessons) and he is expected to use his previously acquired knowledge again, it īs as if he īs forgotten everything.

Sometimes he īll try out random combinations until he gets the correct one. Eg we decide together that it should be present perfect (in your example). He īll try was + see, is + saw, have + saw or whatever until he finds the correct one in the end Geek

16 Apr 2013     


Have you tried doing it the other way - working with a complete text and asking him to identify the tenses and explain why that particular tense is being used? That may help him to remember the forms of the tenses. You could use this model text exercise to develop a crib sheet (like a formula sheet in maths) for the time being with the "recipe" for each verb tense. You could have four columns: "Tense", "Form", "When is it used", "Trigger words / time markers". You and he fill these in together, then he has it as a reference in lessons. He will hopefully start using it less and less over time, but at the moment it sounds like he needs a bit more support as he is still getting overwhelmed with all the tenses.

17 Apr 2013