For IELTS students, knowing the basic English tenses is utterly essential. Whether for the speaking or writing tests, they need to be able to produce grammatically correct sentences. As such, I like to teach my IELTS students certain grammar refresher courses, in which I cover the basics of each of the 12 English tenses. I use this sort of lesson after reviewing the parts of speech, but before moving on to clauses and other complex structures.

If my students speak English well enough to accurately produce these tenses, I will still drill them on when to use each tense, as this is often a tricky area. Many students know, for example, how to produce continuous structures but will use them at totally inappropriate opportunities. As such, I have produced this lesson plan on teaching the present tenses.

This lesson is based upon my “Complete Guide to the Present Tenses” from the TED-IELTS website, which is loosely based on a book I wrote called Grammar for IELTS Writing. (There’s a link on the right side of this page.)


My favourite way to introduce this lesson to have students divide their notebook page into four quarters and draw a picture in each. I give them the following instructions and examples:

You are going to write one sentence in each square describing:

  1. Something you do every day.
  2. Something you are doing right now.
  3. Something you did in the past at an unspecified time.
  4. Something you started in the past that continues until now.

Here are my examples:

  1. I eat breakfast every day.
  2. I’m looking at a computer screen right now.
  3. I have swum with sharks.
  4. I have been living in Asia for ten years.

Once they have drawn their pictures, I tell them to describe the picture to a partner. After a few minutes, I show my examples above and tell the students that these are the present tenses in English.

A PowerPoint Guide to Present Tenses

Next, I give this presentation. The previous exercise is actually included here, if you prefer to use it this way.

 Limited Practice Activities

The PPT above includes some short, simple tests, but next I will give my students a handout that includes three more difficult tasks. I find it usually takes about 20 minutes, even for a fairly advanced group of students. I like to have my students work together as pairs or in small groups in order to complete these activities.

When we go over the answers, I like to make sure my students can see the absolutely correct version (unless there are multiple possibilities, in which case we’ll discuss those) by typing up on a computer screen.

Further Practice

Once the students are adept at these limited practice exercises and can both accurately and appropriately produce the present tenses, I will get them to do some slightly freer practice. I tell them to do the following:

Write 5 sentences about cultural norms in your country. Follow this structure:

People in my country [adverb] …

  • Note: Adverbs of frequency include: often, never, rarely, always, etc

Here is an example from Scotland:

People in my country usually say “hello” to each other when they are out walking.

Finally, I give them another exercise. 

Write part of your daily schedule, using the present tenses. Try to use some adverbs of frequency (usually, never, always, etc).

For example:

  • I always wake up at six o’clock.
  • At quarter past six, I eat breakfast and check my e-mails.
  • By seven o’clock I’m getting ready for work.
  • I leave my house at half past seven.

A Video Guide to the Present Tenses

I made a YouTube video guide to the present tenses that is more or less based on the above lesson. It utilizes the PPT and I talk over it. Feel free to use it or share it if you find it useful.