ESL Present Perfect Tense Activities

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

This lesson illustrates the cases when usage of the present perfect tense is appropriate. It also provides you with activities to teach students the present perfect tense in a practical and engaging manner.

Present Perfect Tense: No Specific Time

Actions are often presented with a specific time. For example, I had breakfast at 8 a.m. today and I arrived late to work yesterday both say when the action took place. However, present perfect tense is not tied to a specific time, and so it can be confusing for ESL students.

Instead, present perfect tense expresses actions that happened at some general time. Those actions happened sometime before the present moment, repeated many times, still continue to happen or even never happened. Example sentences include:

  • I have flown in a plane.
  • I have been to the park many times.
  • We have always celebrated the holiday.

Often times, present perfect tense is presented alongside time adverbs--descriptive words that refer to a general point in time. Common time adverbs include:

  • Never
  • Always
  • Often
  • Before
  • Already
  • Yet

It's important to review these time adverbs with students so they can apply these words during present perfect tense activities.

Present Perfect Tense Activities

The following activities elicit the use of the present perfect tense by using engaging questions and prompts.

It Has Never Happened!

This oral activity is based on guessing, and it provides a great opportunity for students to get to know each other. Ideally, students work in pairs to guess an activity that the other has never experienced before. The only rule for this activity is that students avoid questions with obvious answers about actions that never happened. For example, it is not fair to say You have never been to the moon, because everyone will say they have not!

To make this activity clear to students, model it with the aid of a student. You might make a guess such as You have never had a cat. The student may say, I have had a cat or I have never had a cat.

Who Has Experienced This?

This whole-class activity keeps students engaged, as it can incorporate many different interesting questions to elicit the use of the present perfect tense. For instance, you may ask, 'Who has pet a horse?, Who has planted a tree? and so forth. The students who have had that experience can then tell the entire class about it by using the present perfect tense and adding a bit more detail about their experience. For instance, a student might explain, I have pet a horse and it had very soft fur.

I Haven't Learned This Yet!

For this activity, you can prepare a list of subjects or activities, like speaking French, making equations, riding a bike and swimming. The list should depend on the group age and background. Students can then craft sentences about these subjects or activities using present perfect tense. For instance, a student might state, I haven't learned to speak French yet or I have ridden a bike before.

This activity is flexible. Students can work individually and write their answers, or the activity can be adapted to oral practice, in which students tell each other about themselves by speaking their sentences aloud.

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