Why is the Present Simple Tense so Difficult to Teach

Posted on Nov 17 2017 - 8:56am by Zdenda

The present simple tense is the most important tense for elementary students of English to learn. To be able to communicate intelligibly they need to master at least the basic rules. If they don´t they will struggle with many other grammar rules. Therefore it is crucial that they learn this tense.

But what does it mean to master the present simple tense? What do the students need to learn? In this post, I will list all the things you need to teach to help them with this grammar.


Present Simple – Form


In my opinion, this is the most important rule the students must learn. If they don´t put the words into the correct order they will speak like Mister Yoda at best. But it is more likely that they won´t communicate at all.

Many teachers and experts believe that the students will pick up the SVOMPT rule on their own. They believe that it is enough to provide the learners with enough input and this rule will take care of itself. They are wrong! It works in this way only with gifted students but not with the weaker ones. You need to teach this rule.

I have already created two posts on teaching SVOMPT. You can find the first one here and the second one here.

2. Negatives

In most languages, you just add the negative prefix or suffix to a verb. In English, you need to add another verb – the auxiliary DON´T. For many students, this is a completely new notion and you need to prepare them for this. Moreover, in the third person singular, you need to use DOESN´T.

In my experience, this rule is best mastered by using drills. Of course, we shouldn´t drill for hours on end, but 5 minutes in several consecutive lessons would be nice. For drilling I love using the following Drill table:
The present simple drill table
I love using the following video based on the drill table:

And to give my students a visual support to learn the negative form, I use the following graphic organiser:
Present simple tense new infographic web

3. The -S ending

When we speak about the present simple tense form, most people will mention the -s ending first. It is a real problem even for native speakers. It takes very long to master and even advanced learners of English often fail to add it when speaking. And some teachers seem to be obsessed with the third person singular.


I personally don´t care much. If the students use English extensively, this will take care of itself in time. But there is no way to make the process any quicker. Of course, I would drill it and I would correct it but I wouldn´t worry about it too much.

Present Simple – Forming Questions

Here we go again. The auxiliary DO!!!

To form a question in the present simple tense, students need to use the auxiliary DO. It is not so difficult to explain. Once your students know the SVOMPT rule, just tell them to add DO at the beginning of the sentence. This “DO” informs the listener that the sentence is a question.

It isn´t difficult to understand. The problem is that in the third person singular they need to use the auxiliary DOES. To help my students I use the following drill tableThe present simple tense drill table full
and the following graphic organiser:
Present simple questions part 2

Questions Words

Don´t forget the questions words! Many teachers suppose that their students know the question words, but they don´t. You have to teach them! You can use the following video to teach the words:

Or you could edit the following mind map. It contains the question words and their Czech translation.
Tázací zájmena v angličtině

And now you might think that you are done with teaching the present simple tense. You are wrong! There are the short answers. While students can understand that they need to use the auxiliary DO again, they often fail to use the correct pronoun. To help them I have created the following post to teach just the short answers in the present simple tense.


Fine, now your students know the rules how to form the present simple tense. Great job! You can start teaching something else now, can´t you?

No, you can´t. Students need to know the verbs they could use the grammar with. The present simple tense is traditionally taught with the verbs for daily routines. But these verbs, though very useful, are not the most frequent ones in English. To teach our students real English it is necessary to introduce a batch of the really frequent verbs in English. The following list contains all the verbs that belong among the 250 most frequent words in English:

If you are looking for a way to teach the verbs, you can find some interesting methods for teaching vocabulary here.

Present Simple – Fluency

Have you noticed that there is one verb students can use correctly most of the time? Do you know which one?

It is the verb LIKE. Students often fail to form the present simple tense correctly, but they produce the questions “What do you like?” and “Do you like One Direction?” correctly. How is this possible?

The answer is simple. The verb LIKE is used in many communicative exercises (sometimes the exercises do not contain any other verb) and students simply become fluent using this verb. Our goal is, however, to achive the same fluency with the other verbs too. But how? What can we do?

I have designed the following exercise to help my students become more fluent:

Moreover, when preparing communicative exercises, we need to use more verbs than just the verb LIKE.

Present Simple – Pronunciation

This topic would need a whole new post. So I will just mention what makes the present simple tense so difficult to learn.

We cannot rely on the fact that our students will learn the present simple tense by ear. As the native speakers contract the pronunciation of the auxiliaries heavily, we cannot expect our students to pick them up just by listening. We need to teach the grammar.

Present simple – usage

Shall you explain the usage of the present simple tense at the beginning? Please, don´t.
If it is the first tense you teach, do not bother with explaining the usage. Teach the verbs, meaning and the form and explain the usage only once you introduce another tense.


In this post I have tried to show all the aspects of the present simple tense, which you need to teach. Moreover, I shared some materials which I use to teach this tense. I hope you find this post useful and that you will be able to teach the grammar better.

You can use the following mind map to check that you taught everything:

Please, share your ideas in the comments section.

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1 Comment so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Isac 04/12/2017 at 3:14 am -

    Buena app para entrenar ingles.

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