How to Teach Present Simple
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 (and students) 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:
Conjugate regular and irregular verbs
Form affirmative and negative statements
Form ‘yes/no’ and information questions
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.
I walk I cry
You walk You cry
He walkS He crIES
She walkS She crIES
It walkS It crIES
We walk We cry
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, chrisinenglish.com.
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.
MEANING AND USE:
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.