Games to Teach Past, Present and Future

Understanding the difference between past, present and future is one of the most difficult English skills for English language learners (ELLs) to master. However, ELLs who don't master this skill have trouble communicating effectively in writing and speech. To avoid ELL frustration and motivate students to learn, teachers can use games to teach this complex concept.

  1. Scrabble with a Twist

    • Transform this classic word game into a past, present and future teaching tool by requiring that students play only verbs. For playing a word, students get the number of points written on the letters. However, they have the chance to acquire six additional points by writing a sentence that uses the verb's past, present and future tenses. If students do not do this correctly, other students have the chance to challenge their opponent's answer and steal the points if they can provide the correct response.

    About My Activities Guessing Game

    • Students write down three activities: one that they have done, one that they are doing and one that they will do in the future. They then switch lists with a partner. The partner must guess which activity the person has done, is doing and will do. She must then write three sentences that explain her guesses, using the past, present and future terms of the verbs correctly in the sentences. She then meets with her partner to determine if she is right. This can be a great get-to-know-you activity for the first week of class.

    Talk About the Future

    • In this board game, which can be downloaded for free from Lantern Fish, students must answer questions about the future to advance their tokens. Students roll dice and move their tokens ahead the number of spaces indicated by the dice. When they land, they must discuss the topic that is written on that particular square. Topics include "your studies," "next Monday" and "the person you will marry." Students must say two things about the topic, as well as ask another person a question about the future before their turn is up. The game board contains a list of expressions students should try to use. You can modify this game to review the concepts of past, present and future by assigning different times to different squares. For instance, you might have a "today," "next Monday" and "last Saturday" squares.

    Simple Present vs. Present Continuous Board Game

    • The object of this simple game is to be the first to reach the end of the track by moving a token forward. However, before students can move, they must roll the dice, then make a correct sentence using the words located in the square on which they've landed. Words in Lantern Fish's free, downloadable version of the game include "read book/at the moment" and "brush teeth/three times a day." These words are intended to make sure that students know how to use both the simple present and present continuous.

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