How to Teach Verbs to ESL Students

by Erica Porter

Teaching English as a second language can be rewarding as well as challenging. You must have a definite lesson plan with realistic short- and long-term goals. Achieving short-term goals is fulfilling to the student and gives him the encouragement to reach the long-term goals. Teaching parts of speech helps a student begin to make sense of his new language. Begin with nouns, then add verbs so the student can make sentences.

Start with simple, easily pronounceable verbs such as "run," "take" and "eat." Try to use words that will be convenient and helpful. Avoid difficult words that are not commonly used in conversations or the reading material your students have.

Start with the present tense and use modifiers such as a pronoun. For example, you could say "I walk to the store," "she walks to the store." Establish the difference between "I walk" and "she walks" by stressing the "s" in "walks." Do this with other verbs such as "eat," "take," "find" and so on.

Teach verbs after teaching nouns and have students form simple sentences using the vocabulary you have built up. A sentence requires a subject and a predicate. "She eats" is a sentence. At first, do not use verbs that have a lot of rules, such as "to be" verbs. Once students understand the simple sentence and the rules for using verbs, move on to more complicated verbs.

Ensure the students are fluent in speaking, reading and writing before moving on to more complex words.

Use flash cards. Make one pile with nouns and pronouns and another with verbs. Let the students choose one from each pile and have them form sentences using the correct verb ending.

Let the students add adjectives once they are comfortable with the noun/verb sentence. "Henry eats" can be "Tall Henry eats."

Increase the complexity of the verbs and words gradually. When you finish, the students should have accomplished three goals. They should know the words "he," "she" and "it" are followed by regular verbs that end in "s." They should understand the use of the verb "to do" and understand the difference between the different tenses and how to use them, especially with irregular verbs such as "to be."

Allow ample time for teaching verbs. Verbs will take longer to understand than other parts of speech because of their complexities and irregularities.


  • Use flash cards with simple pictures depicting the verb's action.


  • Assess the progress of you student and do not push students too quickly even if they are in the same class.

About the Author

Based in New Jersey, Erica Porter has been writing fashion related articles since 2001. Her work has appeared on the Breakthrough and eHow websites. Porter holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Rochester.