How to approach the present perfect 1

Published on 12th August, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

The present perfect does not translate into other languages simply and neatly, and often causes conceptual problems for students. I prefer to introduce the present perfect for unfinished events or states initially, eg I’ve been a teacher for many years. This most clearly demonstrates the link between past and present, the ‘signature tune’ of this interesting form. Other uses of the present perfect can, in my opinion, be lumped under one broad heading: a past event/state or experience where what is more important than when, ie it has relevance to now. This notion links together the ideas of recent events; just, already, yet happenings; news and experiences.

For both uses, whether introducing or revisiting the two different uses, I often use personalisation. For unfinished past I ask students to match some muddled halves of sentences about me:

I’ve been a teacher / for 3 years
I’ve had my car / for 2 years
I’ve lived in my house / for 20 years
I’ve had these glasses / for 7 years
I’ve been a mother / for 6 years
I’ve had these shoes / for 3 months

Make sure you use a mixture of verbs and avoid sentences which would sound more natural in the continuous form. After matching, but before checking as a class, draw students’ attention to the form, using timelines and concept questions to help. Students can then use the sentences to write about themselves. This activity also lends itself to question forms to check the answers with you, in a genuine information gap: How long have you …? For stronger students you could also incorporate since expressions, to highlight at a later point too. See next week’s tip for possible contexts for the second use of the present perfect.