Category Archives: A word on Grammar

Hey! Hold On! A Simple Activity to Fix Slipping to the Present Tense when Talking about the Past

Oh my goodness, I’ve been completely obsessed with this tense these past few weeks. Even though my students are studying a B2 level, they still seem to have problems when talking about past events, especially those related to their own lives.  It might be because they are so focused on telling their own real stories that grammar tends to be forgotten. It might or it might not. The thing is  that I find myself constantly reminding them not to slip to present tenses. I have used several techniques but none of them seem to be working.

You might think I am a bit nuts here but when I have some time to kill, I sometimes find myself thinking about my students’ problems with the language and trying to devise new games or strategies to help them overcome their difficulties.

This strategy came to my mind on my way to Marbella to run a workshop. The plane was delayed by an hour and I had some time to kill. The technology I have used to display the prompts is one that I often use, but the idea for the layout sprang from seeing one of the teachers in the workshop work with Spark Adobe Page ( thanks Monica Redondo).  Obviously, you don’t need technology to do this activity but it looks so much nicer!!

Aim: to help students avoid making the mistake of using the present simple when talking about past events.

This engaging past simple activity requires that students help each other fixing the very common mistake of switching to the present tense when talking about events, situations or anecdotes related to their pasts.

  • In this activity, students work in pairs. Display the first prompt. Student A will talk while Student B will listen. Every single time, Student A slips to the present simple when referring to the past, Student B will stop him by saying: ” Hey! Hold on!”
  • At this point, student A will need to start again.
  • Points: every time the student needs to start again, he will score -1 point :(.
  • Fun: every time a student slips to the present simple, he will have to quickly stand up and sit down 🙂  This also allows you, as a teacher, to see who needs more help.
  • Allow about 3 minutes and emphasize that even though they don’t make a mistake, they’ll need to talk for the entire three minutes. This will prevent stronger students from finishing before the 3 minutes are over and will challenge them to keep talking by elaborating on their stories.
  • When the three minutes are over, display a new prompt and ask Student B to do the talking and Student A to help him by paying close attention to the tenses he uses and stopping him using the “Hey! Hold on” technique.
  • After both Student A and B have talked, ask them to stand up and choose a new partner. Display a new prompt and repeat procedure.

Ready? Let’s start!

Hey! Hold On!

Introducing Reported Speech Statements,Questions and Orders in a Different Way

This week’s post was not supposed to be a grammar post, it just so happened to turn out like that. Come to think of it, I have been teaching lots of grammar lately so I shouldn’t be surprised if my brain is filled with ideas for grammar teaching.

If I want my classes to be different from the ones I had when I was studying English at school (teacher-centred and book-centred), I cannot introduce all those digital tools I’m so keen on using and then go and spoil it all by asking students to read straight from a photocopy when it comes to grammar. I’m not saying it’s the wrong way to go about it, I’m just saying it’s not the way I teach or the way I’d like to be taught.

Admittedly, grammar is grammar, but can we make it a bit more appealing to our students?

Reported speech is probably one of my favourite grammar points and this is how I have introduced reported speech statements, questions and orders in my classes this week.


INTRODUCING STATEMENTS.

To introduce statements I often use quotes from famous people. The presentation you’ll see below is one I often use as my students, for the most part, are adults. But if you’re teaching teenagers, you can easily change the people in the slides and use celebrities they can relate to.

So the idea is to play the presentation, read the quote and then ask: “What did Marilyn say?” Guide students through the changes in reported speech and then show the second slide where the reported sentence is displayed.


INTRODUCING QUESTIONS.

I’ve been introducing reported speech questions in this way all my teaching career. The reason? Students collaborate from minute one and this is something I treasure.

I tell the students my son Daniel is 4 years old and he’s always asking questions. With all the drama I can muster I tell them that yesterday I got home really tired and wanted to rest a bit but my son Daniel had other plans for me and could not stop asking questions.

I draw on the board a boy and I call him Daniel and a woman and I call her Cristina- my name. I draw a big bubble next to Daniel and I ask students to guess what sort of questions he might have asked me. As they provide the questions I write them inside the speech bubble making sure there is a variety of wh- and yes/no questions and a variety of tenses. Once the questions have been written, I go on telling them that when my husband got home I was lying on the sofa with an ice pack on my forehead and looking dead tired  -remember drama is important- and when he enquired why I was so tired I told him all about my day and how I couldn’t rest because Daniel had asked all those questions.

  • He asked me why I was smiling
  • He wanted to know if he could watch cartoons.

INTRODUCING REQUESTS AND ORDERS.

To introduce request and orders I write inside a circle on the board

First day instructions

and ask students to try to remember some of the instructions I gave them on the very first day in class.  Encourage them to tell you the exact words I used. They will probably say:

  • Use English
  • Put your mobiles on silent mode
  • Don’t be late.
  • Change partners regularly.
  • Don’t forget to bring your workbook

Write them on the board and choose a student who couldn’t attend that first day.

Tell students they now need to inform this student of the instructions I gave this very first day.

  • The teacher told us to use English in class
  • Cristina told us not to forget to bring our workbook

Hope it’s helpful! You might also be interested in this other post

Some nice activities to practise Reported Speech

Blog de Cristina is also on Facebook. Join us!