Which Continuous Is It? Top 5 Exercises for Practicing Past, Present, and Future Continuous Tenses

Which Continuous Is It? Top 5 Exercises for Practicing Past, Present, and Future Continuous Tenses

Any grammar teacher knows that continuous tenses, also known as progressive tenses, describe an action in progress at a certain point in time.

If the point in time in question is in the past, then the past progressive tense is used. If the point in time in question is in the future, the future progressive is used. And if the point in time in question is right now, the present progressive is used. Though it can be confusing for ESL students at first, once they see this simple pattern they should become quite adept at using the progressive tenses. When it’s time to test these three tenses together, here are some activities you can use to challenge your students and help them review.

Top 5 Exercises for Practicing Past, Present, and Future Continuous Tenses

  1. 1

    You Did What When?

    In this simple game, which requires no prep, students work in pairs to guess the correct progressive tense. One person gives a phrase using the –ing form of a verb such as studying for the final. The other player must then give complete sentences trying to guess when that person did the action or when they will be doing the activity they named. The guesser might say something like You were studying for the final at the end of last semester. The person who gave the phrase then says if the event occurs earlier or later than the time they gave. The second student keeps giving sentences until they have guessed the correct time for the event. Students then switch roles.

  2. 2

    Not Quite the Same

    Your students may have a lot in common with each other, but how much of those commonalities happened at the same time? In this activity, students try to find something that is true for both themselves and their partner but that were true at different times. The goal is to find something that is true for one person in the present (using the present progressive) and was true for the other in either the past (using the past progressive) or will be true in the future (using the future progressive). If the two students shared that activity at the same time, for example, if they are both studying English right now, it does not count. Divide your class into pairs and then give them five to ten minutes to find as many matches as they can. At the end of the time, the pair with the most things in common wins the round. If you like, switch up partners and play again.

  3. 3

    Tell and Retell

    This game will require students to use the present progressive and the past progressive to tell a story. Play in groups of three or four. One person chooses a scene and describes what is going on. For example, she might say she is sitting on the beach listening to music and watching swimmers race. She then adds a sentence beginning with, “When all of a sudden…” The second person must then take up telling the story. He first recaps what the first person said (she was sitting on the beach, listening to music and watching swimmers race) when all of a sudden a shark washed up on the beach. He then continues the story in the present progressive. The shark is chomping his jaws, and he is trying to eat a surfer for dinner. When all of a sudden… Play then goes to the next person who continues the story, first recapping what the first two players said. Once everyone in the group has had a chance to add to the story, students share what each thinks will be happening an hour in the future using the future progressive.

  4. 4

    Time Will Tell

    Do you keep a pile of old magazines laying around your classroom? If so, try this activity that gets students describing the pictures in their magazines. One person chooses a picture from a magazine and describes what is happening. The other person rolls a die. If the number is odd, he describes the picture as if it happened in the past. If the number is even, he describes the picture as if it is happening in the future. If you like, you can have pairs of students complete the activity orally or have each student work with their own picture and write out their answers.

  5. 5

    I Know What You Were Doing Last Summer

    Get ready for this fun guessing game by putting slips of paper in a hat with different times in the past and future. Have half of your class draw a time from the hat, and then sit with a partner. The first person will then make sentences using either the past progressive or the future progressive describing what they think their partner was or will be doing at the time they drew from the hat. For example, if the time were 2050 a person might say the following. You will be driving a Mercedes. You will have finished law school. You will be living in New York City. This student continues making sentences about his partner until that person is able to guess the time the speaker drew from the hat. When the second player guesses correctly, she pulls a time from the hat and makes up sentences about her partner’s actions at that time.

Things are constantly happening around us, and things will be happening until the end of time. The more comfortable your students are with the past, present, and future progressive tenses, the more easily the will be able to talk about these events. Why not get them started today?

What are your favorite activities for practicing the continuous/progressive tenses?

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