Continuous Aspect Activities

Ways of combining the Present Continuous, Past Continuous and Future Continuous so that students can get a feel for the links between those three tenses.

One of the best ways of explaining the Future Continuous and Past Continuous is to say that they are just like the Present Continuous but shifted in time. You can also go one step further and get them to practise the tenses together in order to show the connection, and hopefully also give them a subconscious feel for it.

1. Guess When

One student says an “ing” sentence without the subject and auxiliary verb, e.g. “Wearing a swimming costume”. Their partner has to make a full sentence about the person who spoke that is true (or just probably true for the future) and with a time, e.g. “You were wearing a swimming costume at midday yesterday”, “You’ll be wearing a swimming costume at 7:45 tomorrow morning” or “You are wearing a swimming costume now (under your clothes)”. If the time is wrong, they give hints like “Much later” and “A little bit earlier” until their partner gets exactly the right sentence. The sentence doesn’t need to include the time they were originally thinking of as long as it is (probably) true.

2. Guess What

As part of the game above or as a variation you can ask students to make true sentences with their partner’s root that have a second action instead of a time. For example, if their partner says “Sitting very still” they can see if the sentences “You will be sitting very still next time a bird flies down close to you” or “You were sitting very still when you last heard some bad news” are (probably) true.

3. Chain Truths

Students must say one true Present Continuous sentence, one true Future Continuous sentence and one true Past Continuous sentence about their partner. All three sentences must be true to get one point. This can be played with the same verb and/or noun used in all three sentences, or with no restrictions on the language used. This is easiest with sentences about times during the class they are in, e.g. “You are sitting down”, “You were sitting down a minute ago” and “You will be sitting down when the end-of-lesson bell goes.” You might therefore want to suggest starting with things within class-time but ban such sentences as the game goes on.

4. Things-In-Common Time Machine

Students must find “ing” sentences that are true about both of them but with different tenses. For example, if they say “I’m feeling hungry” and their partner says “Me too” they don’t get a point, but if their partner can honestly say “I’m not, but I was feeling hungry at 10 o’clock last night” or “I’m not, but I will be feeling hungry when this lesson ends”, they do.

5. Setting The Scene

Tell students to imagine themselves being in a particular situation and to work together to describe the scene with sentences like “The sun is shining” and “People are rushing by.” Then introduce a sudden occurrence such as a dragon appearing, e.g. with cards that you give out. They should then retell the story so far with the Past Continuous to set the scene and then continue the story with suitable past tenses. You can also do something similar with the Future Continuous by asking them to plan dastardly James-Bond-baddy plots to block out the Sun, take over the minds of all dogs, etc. They then describe how people’s ordinary lives will suddenly be interrupted with sentences like “People will be taking little Rover for a walk like usual when suddenly…”

6. Time Travel Telescope

Students describe the scene through a telescope that looks into the past or future, using the Present Continuous (because they are looking at it happening). They can then discuss if these things were probably happening or will probably be happening at that time.

7. Two Times Of Mimes

Any Present Continuous miming activity can also be used for Past Continuous just by students shouting “Stop” when they think they can guess and then starting their guesses with “When I shouted stop, you were + ing…”

8. Guess Your Own Year

One student chooses one of the past or future times on the worksheet they are given and makes continuous sentences that they think are true for their partner, e.g. “I guess you were living with your parents” for “1989”; “I think you’ll be working for a different company” for “in ten years” or “You told me you’ll be living in London” for “this time next year”. They continue giving examples for that same time until their partner guesses which time they are talking about. They can then discuss if those things were true or might be true at the given time. A simpler version is for the person speaking to make true sentences about themselves (rather than their partner) until the other students guess the year.

9. Good Excuses

One student asks another to do something for them or do something together. The other person takes a piece of paper and makes an excuse using those words (e.g. “Doctor’s appointment”) and a future tense. As in real life, it is politest if excuses are in the Future Continuous (because the excuse sounds unavoidable), with the Present Continuous being a good second choice, “going to” being not too polite, and “will” and “might” being a bit and very rude respectively. If they choose a tense for their excuse that sounds silly like “I will be drinking a cup of tea at exactly that time”, their partner should ask “How do you know?” and if they can’t explain they get no points. If they choose the right tense they get a number of points based on the scale above (five points for Future Continuous, four points for Present Continuous, etc).

10. The More Things Change

Students brainstorm things in common or differences between two different times, e.g. things people were doing in 1850 and will be doing in 2050 or things people are doing now but weren’t doing (at all) fifteen years ago.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net November 2011
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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