How to approach the present perfect 2

Published on 19th August, 2010 in Teaching Tips by Frances Watkins

Following on from last week’s tip (present perfect for unfinished past), this week we look at how to introduce the second use of the present perfect: past experiences, states and events where when is less important than what.

Putting the present perfect in context is crucial to aiding understanding. I like to use news where possible, using a live audio or video recording (eg from the BBC), or an item from a local or national newspaper. The authenticity can be both motivating and helpful for students. Since the headlines, particularly in audio news, are often in the present perfect with subsequent details in the past simple or other narrative tenses, this can also show how the language is used discoursally. However, you may find that lexical and structural problems get in the way, or that there are (unusually) few natural examples of the present perfect.  

For a pre-intermediate class, you can approach the target language via your own personal news, for example, an email to a friend you haven’t contacted for a while:

Hi there, I’m sorry I haven’t written for a while. I’ve just started a job in a new place, a small business in town. I moved there last month and I’m really enjoying it at the moment. My new colleagues are great, although I usually work longer hours than before. Mum’s okay in general but she has just had a leg operation and she’s still rather weak. She fell outside her house in November …

Ask students to read the letter and find items of news. Students then turn over the letter and recall the main news items in pairs. Put these on the board and highlight the form of the present perfect, asking concept questions. Ask students to then find examples of the past simple, eliciting the difference between the two forms: the past simple instances are used with specific time adverbials, eg last month, in November.

1 Comment

  • Thanks for the tip. You are right. Eliciting the difference between present perfect and past simple practising both tenses in one context can be very useful to clarify and consolidate their usage. Not an easy task, though.

    Maria Grazia on 19 August, 2010