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The How to Series is a blog series in which I share tips and tricks I have learned in my 25 years of teaching ESL. The goal is to clearly and concisely present the “must know” information for the given topic. I would love for other teachers to comment and share their knowledge, as well. 


They call it present simple, but simple it is not. It takes time to get students to understand subject/verb agreement, word order, negative and question structure. The challenge is compounded by the fact that students who are learning present simple are usually at the very beginning of their English learning. Even so, it is really, really important that students master these ideas because they are the foundation for learning all the other verb forms. With that in mind, here are the things a student must understand about present simple.


TARGET: Mastery of present simple is confirmed when the student can:

  1. Conjugate regular and irregular verbs 

  2. Form affirmative and negative statements

  3. Form ‘yes/no’ and information questions

  4. Demonstrates understanding of meaning and use for habits, permanent situations, and scientific facts.



  • Conjugation. Students must understand and master subject verb agreement. 

    • For regular verbs, like walk, third person singular subjects (he, she, and it) have an s added. 

    • If the verb ends in CONSONANT + Y, there is a spelling change (IES).

    • For irregular verbs, third person singular (he, she, and it) have unpredictable endings and must be memorized. 

      • The three most important verbs in English are irregular verbs, Be, Do, and Have.


Regular Verbs

I          walk          I          cry

You     walk         You      cry

He       walkS       He       crIES

She      walkS       She     crIES

It          walkS       It        crIES

We       walk        We       cry


Irregular Verbs


I          AM        DO         HAVE

You     ARE       DO         HAVE

He       IS           DOES     HAS

She      IS          DOES     HAS

It         IS           DOES     HAS

We     ARE        DO         HAS

They  ARE        DO         HAS



Tip: Give students a list of irregular verbs early and drill them often. You can find one on my website,


  • Statement structure. Students must understand basic word order for statements.

    • In an affirmative statement, basic word order is SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT

      • EX.The boy watches the movie.

    • In a negative statement, basic word order is SUBJECT-HELPING VERB-NEGATIVE WORD-VERB-OBJECT

      • EX. The boy does not watch the movie.

      • Notice that the HELPING VERB is conjugated,not the MAIN VERB.

    • In a negative statement, if the VERB is a form of BE, don’t use an OBJECT. But you can use an adjective.

      • EX. The girl is not hungry.


  • Question structure. Students must understand basic word order for questions.

    • In a yes/no question, basic word order is HELPING VERB-SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT

      • EX. Does the boy watch the movie?

      • Notice that the HELPING VERB is conjugated in a question, not the MAIN VERB.

    • In a yes/no answer, basic word order is SUBJECT-HELPING VERB. 

      • EX. Yes, he does.

    • Do not use a main verb in a yes/no answer.

    • In an information question, basic word order is INFORMATION WORD-HELPING VERB-SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT.

Tip: Some students speak language with a different word order than English. Don’t underestimate the need to re-enforce that skill.



  • Present simple describes HABITS

    • EX: I ride my bicycle everyday.

    • I don’t eat much red meat.

    • Do you play chess?

    • Where do you go on holiday?

  • Present simple describes PERMANENT SITUATIONS

    • I live on Grape Street.

    • He is not tall.

    • Does she have green eyes?

    • What is your email address?

  • Present simple describes SCIENTIFIC FACTS

    • Water boils at 100 deg. Celsius, at sea level.

    • Botanists do not study fish.

    • Does Mars have an atmosphere?

    • What is the speed of light?


Tip: Usually, I hate drills and repetition, but conjugating verbs is essential, and drills are an efficient way of helping students memorize, especially at lower levels.. 

How to Teach Present Simple

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