Teaching Present Perfect Tense to ESL Students

Teaching the present perfect tense to ESL students can be tricky, as this tense relates to the past as well as the present. Following are some simple tips for teaching students how to use the present perfect tense properly.

1. Explain the conjugation

It is relatively easy to conjugate present tense verbs. Simply use “has/have” and the past participle of the verb. For regular verbs (whose past tense is formed by adding “-ed), the past participle will be the same as the past tense form (want – wanted – wanted). With irregular verbs, the past participle forms must be memorized (eat – ate – eaten).


2. Clearly explain when the present perfect tense is used

The present perfect tense is used to describe things that happened in the past and are still connected to the present. We often use “for” or “since” with these sentences. Here are some examples:

  • I have lived in Japan for five years. (Because I still live in Japan, I use the present perfect tense here. If I no longer lived in Japan, I would use the past tense.)
  • Jane has played guitar for 10 years.
  • I have had long hair since I was young.

The present perfect tense is also used to talk about your experiences, or things that you have accomplished. Here are some examples:

  • Mark has travelled to thirteen countries.
  • Jeff has never eaten sushi.
  • They have won two awards.

This tense is also often used with the words “already” or “not…yet”

  • I have already finished my homework.
  • My sister hasn’t finished her homework yet.


3. Bring in extra worksheets to regularly review this tense in class

Worksheets can be a teacher’s best friend. A simple worksheet to review the present perfect tense can be used as a warm-up in several consecutive classes, as this will help reinforce the usage of this tense in the students’ minds. Teachers can spend time making their own sheets, or they can download free ESL grammar exercises online.


4. Play a game!

It’s never a bad idea to play a game in class, especially if the game can be educational as well as fun. One good game for teaching present perfect tense is “I’ve never.” In this game, students earn a point (or some other predetermined prize) each time they say something that they have never done. However, the students only get the point if they are the only person in the class who has never done it. You might need to show them how it’s done by saying the first sentence. (For example, if you are teaching in Japan, you could say, “I’ve never spoken Japanese with my parents.” Since you are presumably the only person in the class for whom this would be a true statement, you would get one point.) This is a challenging, fun game which students will enjoy. You can also change the rules of the game, having students say something that they have done, and which no one else has done. This is just one of many useful ESL grammar activities that can add some instructional fun to your classes.


As with learning any aspect of English grammar, it is important to practice a lot and hear this tense used in context on a constant basis. By following the above steps and providing the students with several sample sentences, they will be able to quickly understand the present perfect tense and incorporate it into their own English conversations.

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