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Simple Present vs. Present Progressive

One mistake I commonly see my students make, especially at the beginning levels, is confusing verb tenses and forms. Have you ever seen this sentence? “She is cook breakfast every day.” Knowing when to use the BE verb and when to use the DO verb to help form verb tenses can be complicated for beginning learners. 

One ESL activity that I recently developed and had great success with is a group practice activity that gets students collaboratively practicing the simple present and the present progressive. Students draw cards, or roll dice, to get a subject, verb, and a sentence type (positive, negative, or question). They then have to write two sentences with the information, one in the simple present and one in the present progressive.

As I walk around and monitor their progress, I can point to a sentence like “Martin is eat breakfast each morning” and ask why the sentence contains the BE verb if it’s in the simple present column. I can also point out that the be verb is used when forming the progressive tense to talk about right now, but not when talking about routines. This is great for visual learners because students can see the difference in each verb tense because they write them side by side in columns.

Also, students are required to work collaboratively because they can’t move on until everyone in the group has finished writing the sentences. In my class, I noticed a lot of stronger students helping explain points of confusion to the weaker students who were struggling with a particular sentence. They point out errors to students and help them understand their mistake. This also gave me great insight into just what my class was struggling with, so I could plan future lessons to help meet their specific needs.

There are several things you’ll need to download in order to do this activity. Below are the download links and directions:

  1. Simple Present and Present Continuous Student Sheet


  1. Verb Cards  /  Click here for updated verb cards using pictures instead of clipart
  2. Sentence Types Cards
  3. Subject Cards

OR (Instead of cards)

  1. Verb Dice
  2. Subjects Dice
  3. Sentence Types Dice


  1. Print the simple present and present continuous student sheet.
  2. Print either the cards OR the dice. I originally used the dice but found they have to be carefully constructed, or they turn out to be a bit loaded and repeatedly show the same item. I enjoy using the dice because they’re fun, but the cards provide more options and variety. Print a set of your choosing for each group. On a side note, having verb cards is a great teaching resource that can be used in many different ways, not just this activity. 
  3. Put students into groups of 3-5.
  4. Explain the procedure to students and work through some examples on the board. Emphasize that for each set of cards they draw or dice they roll, they will need to write two sentences, one simple present and one present progressive. They will also need to write the correct type of sentence depending on if they get a positive, negative, or question card.
  5. Emphasize that they cannot draw new cards or roll the dice again until everyone at their table has correctly written the sentences. Encourage them to work together and help each other.
  6. Optionally, you could turn this into a competition by declaring the first group to correctly write all 15 lines (30 sentences) as the winners.

That’s pretty much it. If you like this activity, please share and leave us a comment below.


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