Lesson Plan: Short answers for learning tense and aspect

155/365: See you on the other side

“Are you eating?” “Yes, I am.”  (Photo by Mr. Thomas on Flickr)

This lesson was born out of a desire to get everyone in my class to at least say something for one week. This is essentially a very simple game, with a bit of prep work beforehand. I know that my students struggle with tense and aspect, to the point where they seem to be barely aware that these things exist at times. For this reason I set about adapting this game from eltgames.com.

For my purposes I only extracted the short answers (eg. No, I wouldn’t), not because I feel they are particularly useful to students (I tend to think a simple “Yes” or “No” suffices) but because using them call particular attention to the modal or auxiliary verb and its role in identifying tense and aspect. In this way I hoped to raise a bit of awareness about their different uses, as well as practising forming questions and speaking and listening.

Lesson Plan

Start by giving out the worksheet, and showing the presentation below (there’s a zip file with everything in editable format at the end of this post). You’ll need to edit the questions based on your students and location, try to make the answers fairly obvious. Make sure that the students are aware that there are no correct or incorrect answers, and go around helping where needed.

Then run through the answers, and try to get students to identify rough reasons why each tense or aspect is used. On the Powerpoint presentation I’ve only included very rough reasons, as I think that learners can guess the meaning from the context, and I don’t want to overburden them with explanations. This is also supposed to be a speaking fluency lesson after all.

On the presentation it says run the game at this point, then review, then run again. Actually I found it worked much better to give students a selection of the cards (below this paragraph), and have them practice making questions in small groups, while the teachers rotated and helped out where necessary.  Which way you go here will largely depend on the ability of your students – I think the game-review-game method would work for higher level classes, but not so well for my students. It’s also pushing the time boundaries in a 50 minute lesson.

I found this works best in teams of four or five students. If you’re confident in everybody’s ability, then have the person who asks the question rotate around the team. If you’ve got mixed levels, consider one good student to ask the questions.


This definitely did get some good practice done, though it does leave a long time with students not doing anything in the class. One way I combated this in a smaller class was to have teams listening to the questions and scoring bonus points for spotting errors.

Students also tended to just stick to the questions used in the example, rather than experimenting much with their own ideas. For this reason it may become necessary to ban certain verbs or structures in order to push learners further.

What was surprising in this lesson was how much some of my high school students struggled, despite given ample time to practice (I suspect with many groups this was down to lack of effort as much as ability. Nevertheless, it is quite frightening that students with at least 6 years of English behind them still can’t form a question in the present progressive. )  Not having had a chance to follow this up, I don’t know whether it made any difference, but it did at least make for a fun lesson in most cases.

Below is a zip file containing everything you need for this lesson. If you use it, I’d love to hear about it.


Short Answers Game Zip File


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