Tips and Resources for Teaching Present Perfect

Hello colleagues, A fellow teacher and I have been talking about strategies for teaching the present perfect with intermediate level learners. What techniques have you found effective? Can you recommend any good online resources?

Thanks for your input!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


Hi, Susan and all, I teach bilinguallly in the following manner: I introduce verb tenses to students in two stages: The first stage - for Beginning students - consists of lessons from one of my short workbooks, which I hand out to everyone when they sign up for the class. My lessons include a list of commonly used verbs with an explanation in Spanish of the rules, followed by some examples, and then about 10 exercises, sometimes a short story or dialogue. The second stage - for Intermediate students - is found in my larger Intermediate Workbook, which divides the perfect tenses into Regular and Irregular verbs. In the Irregular verbs section I further group them into “Families” for easy memorization.

All my lessons include pronunciation practice or reviews.

At the same time, I use various Graded Readers and the lyrics to songs in my classes and review verb tenses as we study the text.

You can view my texts in level 2 and in, Libros de Trabajo.There are also a few videos.

Paul Rogers




Like the simple present, the present perfect is used WAY more in conversational speech than native English speakers realize.  In the old days when I loved teaching grammar, I spent weeks and weeks on teaching the parts of the structure and then having students do a zillion exercises.  I could recite the reasons for using the present perfect like catechism.  But after I got out of the academic ESL business, I started just teaching expressions we use with the present perfect without the burden of the pages of rules, and they are ideal for games, which provide endless repetition and practice.   For example, we use the " have you ever...???  Yes I have, or no I haven't.... Q & A all the time... Have you ever seen that TV show?  Have you ever been to NY?  Have you ever eaten oysters?     It is part of small talk constantly.    It can be a simple prompt on a board game-- with a pictures of two things on a card and the correct verb ( been to//Chicago//Los Angeles) (eaten// oysters//clams).     The student picks up the card and says," I have never been to Chicago but I have been to Los Angeles.)   etc.   Or, it can be a Q& A for pair practice-- with pairs of cards-- one has the question, one the answer-- Have you ever been to Chicago?  No, but I have been to New Orleans.      I went there last year (a chance to build in the contrasting finished period for the use of the simple past)   Have you ever seen the movie " Get out"?  Yes I have, I saw it last week.    Have you ever driven a truck?  Yes, I have, I drove one two years ago.   ( use both expressions (last __   and ---- ago) in this practice). 

Similar expressions are "Have you-- yet? ( Finished your homework, done the dishes, called your mother) (found a job) (mailed your letter)  Yes, I have, I called her two hours ago.   Or No, I haven't.  I still have to do that.  

                                       Where are going? (What are you having/) (When are you leaving?)  I ( we) haven't decided yet.   I might leave in a couple of hours ( be careful to give enough information for students to produce a completely correct answer-- no English spaghetti....)

                                       How many_____ have you ___?  ( cities/visited in the US) (movies /seen this month) (books//read this week) (tamales) I've read /eaten/seen/etc___ so far this (month, year, week, morning etc)   (this is yet another  chance to build in the open ended time period implied in (and needed for) the present perfect without having to teach rules.  ( Just like we have to do with for/since).  

You may want to have students practice with the past participle first-- matching present to past participles in a matching set; then once they have some knowledge of the past participles, they do a pair practice using erasable boards-- one says " eat"-- the other writes "have eaten"  (keeping the focus on the pres. perfect).   

Another really great way to practice the present perfect is to have sets of cards with words on them that make sentences or questions  using the present perfect.  The students put the cards in the correct word order.   Sets of cards need to be labeled with the same number -- that is, make a list of 10 sentences or questions and then number the sets of cards accordingly-- all words for sentence 1 are labeled 1.  Keep them together with a clip or rubber band.  Be sure to include the sheet with the sentences so students can check their own work.  These are ideal for wall pockets and for students to do in pairs so they have to negotiate the word order together.  The sentences can be easy to very hard.  I have a set of these that is "wh-" questions with present perfect:   Which rooms have you cleaned already?   Where have the waiters put the clean glasses?   How many states have you visited?   Which sentences has the teacher explained?    Lots of thinking goes on in these-- and it is INFINITELY more useful to students to be able to manipulate word order with cards than to try to do one of those (useless- -in MHO) worksheets with scrambled sentences where students have to write and erase and write and erase......  you can have them copy the sentences from the cards once they check their work with the checking sheet if you want a written product.   You could even then give them answers to match to the questions they have assembled.  But the word order cards don't have to be only questions-- They can be statements, too.   

Once these expressions have been introduced, I use them regularly to open classes with conversation:  "What have you bought since our last class?  Who have you talked to?  Where have you taken the bus to?"  Etc.  Or simply do the " Have you ever eaten cow's tongue?  Have you  ever climbed a mountain?"  GREAT fun for conversation!  It would also make a great survey game-- one of those where you have to find someone who has done something--- like bingo -- Find someone who has...  (in squares on the bingo sheet) Climbed a mountain, Ridden a bike,  owned a horse -- and the students get signatures of those who have done those things.    Then the next conversation activity includes, Who do you know who has owned a horse?  

I have a zillion ideas for games and activities to practice these--check my blog for more--- ---thank you!!  Robin  



Hello Paul and Robin and all, Thanks so much for sharing all these GREAT, highly interactive ideas for teaching present perfect. I think we can all agree that interactive activities -- rather than worksheets -- is the way to go when teaching grammar. I absolutely love the sentence and question creation activity using words on cards. I use this a lot with lower level grammar points, too. We also use whiteboards a lot.  All that being said, perhaps worksheets  have some usefulness for practice and/or review. What do members think?

Students often get quite confused about the present perfect. I have had students who moved on to more advanced classes return to ask me to clarify the present perfect for them. I always start by telling the students that they are already familiar with this verb tense since they hear it all the time. I usually get a quizzical look until I point out that the question, "How long have you been here?" is present perfect. (*As Robin notes, students often learn language in chunks. The question "how long have you been here?" is a good example of a language learning chunk since we usually teach this question and how to respond to it at the beginning level, though we usually don't  teach the present perfect to beginners.) When students realize that they use this language chunk all the time, it makes it a bit easier for them to understand this particular usage for present perfect. Helping students connect new information with their prior knowledge is always important.

Robin, I have to ask ... what exactly do you mean by "no English spaghetti"? Image removed.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition