How To Teach the Future Continuous Tense

By Alex Case
When and how to present and practise will + be + v + ing for points in time and certain future events.

Many people dispute the need to practise a tense as rare as the Future Continuous, but I see it as such useful revision and expansion of the continuous aspect (Present Continuous, Past Continuous and Future Continuous), that it hardly matters how often students will need to understand or use it. All three continuous tenses are used to talk about things in progress at a point in time, be it “the last time I saw you”, “now” or “the next time I see you”. Other common time expressions with Future Continuous include “at this time tomorrow/ next week/ next year” (similar to “at this time last week” with Past Continuous), “at (exactly) that time” (similar to “right now” with Present Continuous) and times like “at 9 o’clock” (similar to Past Continuous).

Future Continuous also has an additional meaning. Perhaps because talking about a point in time sounds precise and detailed, it can also make statements like “I’ll be flying to New York” sound much more certain than “I’ll fly to New York” and even the more common Present Continuous for arrangements (“I’m flying to New York”). For this reason, Future Continuous is often used in polite negative answers to invitations and for turning down suggestions for arrangements such as meetings.

Presenting the Future Continuous tense

Although in my opinion the best time to introduce the Future Continuous is probably just after revising the Past Continuous tense, textbooks almost always introduce it in a unit on future tenses. There are some difficulties with this approach. The main issue is that I see the most important task when tackling the future to be showing students that the main distinction between the big three (Will, Going to and Present Continuous) is not to do with certainty – despite what they might have learnt in school! This can be done by, for example, showing them that we can have certain predictions and arrangements with unreliable people. Having dealt with that, usually with some difficulty, along comes the Future Continuous tense which can exactly be used to show how certain something is!

I therefore usually get revision and extension of those three main future tenses well out of the way before I introduce Future Continuous as the exception that proves the rule. Other possibilities for when to introduce Future Continuous include with Future Perfect, as part of an invitations lesson, or as part of a continuous aspect lesson.

If you are doing a whole lesson on the continuous aspect, students can analyse example sentences of all three tenses and try to find similarities between them such as those explained at the beginning of this article. This could also be done in combination with just the Past Continuous or Present Continuous (with just its present meaning) if you don’t want to do all three.

For the future certainty meaning students could analyse examples of turning down invitations and rank them by politeness. To make this possible for people who aren’t familiar with this meaning of the tense, the example sentences should also vary in level of politeness in other ways, e.g. contrasting “I’d love to but I’ll be flying to New York at exactly that time” and “Sorry, I can’t. My brother will probably come round for a chat tomorrow evening”.

Practising the Future Continuous tense

Many of the best practice activities are linked to diaries and making arrangements. The politeness of turning down invitations presentation explained above links easily into games involving polite and less polite responses. For example, students could have conversations in which one of them invites the other over and over and the other student gives different excuses each time. The game continues until one of the two students gives up. They can then discuss which excuses were good – something that ties in well with cultural training as the amount of information that you should give is quite culturally specific.

Future schedules can also be tied into the point in time meaning of the Future Continuous by giving them filled-in diaries. For example, in the activity that I call When Will I See You Again? the teacher gives students two different packed diaries for the next seven days in which there is just one point in time in which they will be doing the same thing at the same time. Tell them that they have no space in their schedule to set up an actual meeting, so they need to find a time when they are doing the same thing at the same time in the same place to talk about something. They should ask “What will you be doing at…?” until they find that moment where they will be able to fit each other in without changing their plans.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet December 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet

One Comment

  • sadaf says:

    I liked the idea how to introduce it to students by giving them task to give invitation to fellows and fellows will refuse it in polite way.superb!

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