Teaching Verb Tenses


As a speech-language pathologist, I often have students who need to work on verb tenses. Teaching verb tenses can be tricky, especially when a child has difficulty understanding time concepts. Here are my tips for teaching verb tenses to children.

Explicitly teach past, present, future

When teaching verb tenses, it’s so important to make sure the child understands the concepts of past, present, and future. These can be tricky and abstract concepts for some children, especially children with language impairments. Before I start teaching past tense or future tense verbs, I make sure my students have an understanding of past and future. If they don’t I will start my instruction by explicitly teaching them about past and future tenses. For this, I like to use real experiences they have had or will have. I also pair it with this time concepts practice I created.

When teaching past, present, future tenses, it’s important to use visuals and to use experiences the child can relate to. Events and activities they have participated in or will participate in are the best. I often use activities and events throughout the school day for this.

Work on one verb tense at a time

When teaching verb tenses, it’s important to work on one tense at a time. I usually start with present tense, and mostly present progressive verbs (running, sleeping, eating, etc.). These are the most applicable and easiest to teach to young children. From there, I will move onto regular past tense verbs, then future tense, and I usually save irregular past tense verbs for last. This is just how I have been able to help my students make the most progress with verb tenses.

Beware of rote learning exercises

When teaching verb tenses, it’s so easy to fall into the rut of using the same carrier phrase (i.e. “Yesterday, he ____”). Be careful with this because it often becomes more of a rote learning exercise in which the child has only memorized the response, rather than actually learning the concept. When teaching past tense verbs, it’s okay to use “yesterday” as a cue for past tense, but don’t ONLY use that key word. Change it up. Include other key words that also mean past. You could use last week, last night, this morning (if it’s later in the day). The key is to make sure the child understands that past tense is not just yesterday. It could even be just one minute ago. The same is true for future tense. Don’t get stuck just using “tomorrow.”

Use real time actions

This is especially helpful when you are first starting out. I like to have the child perform actions and then we practice using the verb tenses to describe those actions. You, as the SLP/teacher, could also perform the actions, or another student if you are working in a group. This allows the child to see the action, rather than just a still picture, and practice using their verb tenses in real life situations. Using videos is also great. Just try to bring in more than just photos or clipart pictures.

In summary

When teaching verb tenses, it’s important to really make sure your child understands the concepts and is really learning the grammar, not just memorizing. These tips will help ensure that true learning happens and will help with generalization of the skill.

For more language tips, check out THIS POST full of tips for teaching vocabulary.

Here are some files you can use for teaching verb tenses:


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