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Speaking Activities For Present Perfect With Unfinished Times

By Alex Case
Fun oral activities for a use of Present Perfect that controlled practice is particularly important for.

“Present Perfect with unfinished times” like “today” and “this year” is often contrasted with “Simple Past with finished times” like “yesterday” and “last year”, but in fact there are few if any time expressions that can’t be used with the Simple Past. For example, “Did you do it today?” could mean while you were at school and “Did you win this year?” could mean in a football season which has finished (though the calendar year has not, hence “this year”). This fact makes error correction and designing written exercises quite difficult, but it is still useful for students to get into the habit of usually using Present Perfect with unfinished times, if only to increase their fluency. This is also a great excuse to introduce useful time expressions they might not know like “the day before yesterday” with Simple Past and “in the last couple of days” with Present Perfect. All this makes controlled speaking practice to get them into the habit of using unfinished times with Present Perfect by far the most important thing when you tackle this grammar point in class. Luckily there are some quite nice communication games related to this use of the tense, most of which also include students speaking about themselves.

The simplest game is for one student to give an unfinished time and their partner(s) to try and make a true sentence about something that person has done during that time, e.g:

A: “In the last hour”

B: “You have been to toilet in the last hour”

A: “Wrong. When I went to the bathroom earlier that was to fix my make up”

You can also play the game the other way round, with one person giving the action and getting their partner to guess the time clause, but you have to tweak the game a little so that they don’t just make every statement true by using very long times (e.g. “Clean my teeth” “You have cleaned your teeth in the last one hundred years”). One way of changing the game is to give them a list of time expressions (or similar pack of cards) to use during the game, in which case it becomes good tactics to keep long time-expressions like “this millennium” until late in the game. Another variation is to work in bigger groups and to compete to make the sentences about shorter and shorter times while still saying something that is true, e.g:

A: “Swear at someone”

B: “You have sworn at someone this month”

A: “That’s true. Probably many times!”

C: “You have sworn at someone this week”

A: “Yes. Once or twice, I guess”

B: “You have sworn at someone today”

A: “No, the last time was last night. The main person I swear at is the referee”

A similar game can be played in pairs if the student gives more information each time they say it is true (like above) and their partner stops whenever they aren’t confident, they can make the time shorter and still make a true sentence. They get one point for each of their true sentences until they give up, or no points if their last guess was incorrect.

If you have the right technology available, students can also compete to make true sentences about longer and longer time periods, using a search engine whose results can be filtered by time to check. One team makes a statement about a reasonably short period of time, e.g. “Nobody has blogged about skiing in Japan in the last hour”. The teacher or students do the relevant search, and if no results come up in the given time period the team gets a point. The next team must do the same for a longer time period, e.g. “Nobody has posted a picture of this building today”. The activity continues until one of the statements isn’t true, then they can go back to the shortest time period and try again. Note that sometimes the actual page will need to be clicked on and read to check if it really is on the topic of the search terms, something that makes for good skills practice as long as the computers are protected and students are all careful about what you click on.

A simpler kind of competition is for students to find things that they have done more recently than the people they are speaking to, e.g:

A: “Have you spoken Mongolian today?”

B: “No, I’ve never spoken Mongolian!”

A: “I have spoken Mongolian today. Free lessons started in my university this week”

This can also be done as a mingle with students walking around asking questions to find something they have done more recently than everyone else.

It is also possible to design activities that are more like discussion questions or roleplays. For example, you could give students an unfinished time like “today” or “this week” and ask them to find out who has been busiest or had the healthiest lifestyle within that time frame. They can then discuss stress and health more generally. This can also be set up as a roleplay with a doctor trying to find out why the patient is suddenly having bad dreams, not sleeping, feeling unhealthy, etc. Another alternative is to use questionnaires, e.g. students writing one called “How much do you follow fashion?” or “How up to date are you with the news?” with questions like “Have you thrown away lots of clothes this week/this month/this year/in the last five years?” and “Have you bought a news magazine this week/this month/in the last three months?”

A similar activity is for students to design job interview questions that ask both for people’s experience and how recent that experience was, e.g. “Have you studied English in the last three months?” and “Have you handled money in your last two jobs?” They can then compare with another group and discuss whether the questions are useful and fair.

For more speaking activities and details on how to explain this use of the tense, see How To Teach Present Perfect With Unfinished Times.

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