How to Teach Past, Present, Future Tenses

Use hands-on activities, games and writing assignments to teach verb tense.

Students in elementary and middle school learn to use past, present and future tense verbs for speaking, reading and writing purposes. Learning tenses can be challenging for students. However, teachers can enhance the experience of learning verb tenses with hands-on, interactive and fun activities.

Teach students to identify and use action verbs in sentences and reading selections.

Provide students with hands-on and interactive activities for learning about verbs. Verbs are action words. While students can benefit from identifying action verbs on worksheet assignments, teaching action verbs is the perfect opportunity to get creative. Create a set of action verb cards. Fold each one in half and put the cards in a basket or bowl. Next, allow students to select a card and act out the verb on the card. Students will be jumping, dancing, singing, snoring and doing just about any other action verb you deem appropriate inside the classroom. You can change up this game by acting out the verb yourself. Students love to see teachers act in ways they do not normally act—especially if it means acting silly.

Introduce adverbs that allow students to recognize and use present tense verbs.

While “kick” is present tense, we may not always use the verb in that particular form. Often we will say or write “always kicks” or “sometimes kicks.” Teach students the adverbs that often accompany present tense verbs. These include words such as: now, currently, usually, frequently, seldom, rarely and never.

Teach past tense through reading and writing exercises.

Biography, memoir and personal narrative reading selections often include many different kinds of past tense verbs. Read a selection aloud to students and allow them to write down each past tense verb they hear. Make a game of it. Tell the students how many past tense verbs are in the selection and provide incentives for students who can name all of them.

Students can also write their own personal narrative about an event or experience in their own lives that happened in the past. As students write rough drafts of their narratives, introduce different ways to create past tense verbs. Through the editing and revising process, direct students to enhance their stories by choosing less common and more interesting verbs. This will give students more practice with past tense.

Have students talk about their future plans to introduce and teach future tense.

Students use future tense in conversation every day. Before introducing the concept of future tense, talk with students about their plans for the evening or weekend. Discuss the concept of the future and point out the future tense verbs students used in conversation. Expand on this exercise by asking students to set goals for the grading period, school year, or even for their future beyond school. Have students write down their goals in either list or paragraph form. Once the students finish this part of the exercise, ask them to highlight all of the future tense verbs they used.

A professional educator in Texas, Lynn Wolf began her journalism career in 1993. She has published in the "New Orleans Times-Picayune" and the "Monroe News-Star." Wolf holds a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications from Loyola University New Orleans and a Master of Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University.