Introducing the Present Continuous Tense: a Lesson Plan    

This lesson introduces the Present Continuous Tense to beginning ESL students. It requires 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours, and gives practice with reading and writing, as well as listening and speaking.

a family camping trip to illustrate present continuous tense actions like playing, sitting, and writing
a family camping trip to illustrate present continuous tense actions like playing, sitting, and writing


Lesson Objective: Students will recognize and use the present continuous tense to make oral & written statements like “he’s reading” with few or no errors (excluding spelling).

Materials needed:

1. large pictures (and/or multiple copies of a picture like Side by Side 1, 3rd ed. Pg.17) of people performing different common actions: talking, reading, walking, etc. (Most ESL texts and picture dictionaries have at least some suitable pictures. If your class isn’t using a textbook, you can also find free pictures online: clip art, speech therapy action pictures, crowd scenes, etc.)

Some possibilities: 

>>> ESL Flow's Picture Lessons page has some excellent pictures and ideas, several specifically for the present continuous tense.

>>> Highlights Hidden Pictures, B&W printable; including ‘New Neighbors:’ they’re moving; the men are carrying a table, a child is looking out the window, etc.  . There are other good ones like ‘A Day at the Fair’ or ‘Farmers’ Market.’ 

>>> Discovery Ed Clipart has kids doing things... 

2. half a class set of stories with related pictures. (Our class used Side by Side 1, pg. 22-23, but any similar story with pictures would work.) You can use this letter about camping if you like, or make one yourself based on a picture you can reproduce and your students’ needs.) 

3. per group of 3-4 students: one picture dictionary, magazine or other picture scene with a lot of people doing things. 

This needs to be a different scene or scenes than #1, but the sources above would still work. Even better, because there is more going on is Where's Waldo? The first one (at the beach), with one section enlarged, offers possibilities like: they’re riding horses, walking, building with sand; the boy with _____ is walking, she’s wearing shorts, etc. Our class used the New Oxford Picture Dictionary pg.90-91 (and sometimes pg.96-97 for verb names.)  

Planning & Problem-solving 

When to teach this lesson (based on recently taught lessons): 

Students are familiar with pronouns & present tense ‘to be’, including contracted forms, basic classroom vocabulary and commands including listen, talk, read, write, open, close, pick up, stand up, sit down.  Students also come from a culture that allows group competitions.

Anticipated problems & solutions: 

Problem 1:  Students still have very limited vocabulary. Solution: pre-teach needed vocabulary (before reading) & provide a picture dictionary with more vocabulary needed for the final competition.  (If picture dictionaries are unavailable, pre-teach the verbs & other necessary vocabulary in the picture used for the competition.  Try to choose a picture with mainly the classroom verbs students already know and/or the vocabulary taught for the reading.)

Problem 2: There isn’t really time in this lesson to teach the spelling rules for forming the present continuous tense, but it would reinforce students’ learning to think of and write sentences using the tense. Solution: assure students it’s OK to concentrate on good sentences and not worry about spelling for now.  Note they will get the spelling rules soon. 

(If the class has students who fret if they can’t do everything accurately, it might be better  to pre-teach the vocabulary for the activities in the competition picture—i.e. running  riding a bicycle, surfing, throwing, instead of using the picture dictionary pages 96-97, which give verbs only in the base form.) has a good worksheet for the spelling rules, but it requires more English than beginners would all have near the start of class (when this lesson is planned), so scaffolding and explaining would take a lot of time.  I favor a brief mention that sometimes there’s a minor spelling change, like dropping an ending ‘e’ before adding ‘-ing’(a simple & reliable rule), for students who notice the spelling changes.

Problem 3: If your students do not do well with competition, due to either personality or culture, the evaluation activity can be done as a class collaboration. See the end of the lesson.

Introducing the Present Continuous Tense

Introduction (5 min.)                                              

Tell your students “Stand up.” Say & write on the board “You are standing.” Repeat with several other known commands to class or various individuals, asking students in each case what he, she, or they are doing and writing it on the board: “You’re sitting,” he’s reading,” “she is writing,” “I’m talking,” etc.

Announce “Today we will practice the present continuous tense.” 

Presentation (10-15 min.) 

Point out the rule: We form the present continuous tense with the verb “be” and an active verb with an “-ing” ending. (Write on the board: “Present continuous tense: be + ing.”) We use the present continuous tense to talk about what’s happening right now. Show sentences from the Introduction as examples.  

Ask comprehension questions: What am I doing? (Write the correct answers students give on the board.)  What is ____ doing? (a student who is taking notes.)  Is this in the present continuous tense? (Write a gerund on the board.)  (No) That’s right. Is this better? (Add “he is.”) 

Have students open Side by Side 1 to pg. 17, or pass out similar picture sheets (or hold up big pictures, or draw on the board and mime the actions) to pre-teach any new vocabulary for the pictures you will use.

Ask comprehension questions (“In picture 2, is she sleeping?” [No] “What IS she doing?” etc.)

Practice and Evaluation

Guided Practice 1 (5 min.) 

After demonstrating with a student, have students mime various activities to their partners and ask, “What am I doing?” (During demo write this on the board). The partners guess, then take their turns at miming.

Practice 2 (15-25 min.) 

Students hear, read, and tell or read aloud one or two simple stories to become more familiar with the present continuous tense.

1. Have students open Side by Side 1 to pg.22 or pass out the picture story/stories you will use.  Elicit the location of each story from students, then ask comprehension questions to make sure they understand ‘in the park,’ ‘at home,’ ‘at the beach, or wherever the story takes place.’ 

2. Read the (first) story out loud while students read along.  Ask what various people in the story are doing.

3. Students in pairs read the story to each other.

4. Ask for a volunteer to model looking at the picture and telling the story (describing the picture) without reading it. 

5. Partners take turns telling the story to each other (with the speaker covering the text.) 

When you give instructions, point out that the student telling the story does not need to tell it exactly as written, but should try to correctly describe character actions.  

Ask: if your partner says “the boy is paying the guitar,” is that OK? [yes.]  If your partner says “the girls studying,” is that right? [no.]  What’s the right way to say it? [“The girls ARE studying” or “Sally & Patty ARE studying.”  Partner should correct if the tense isn’t formed correctly— as in the reading. 

6. If using pg.22, repeat steps 1-5 with the 2nd story.

Practice 3 (15-20 min.)

Have student pairs write a short story about activities in a different picture (i.e. Side by Side 1 pg.23 picture “At the beach” or similar picture using pre-taught vocabulary.)  Circulate to help and to check tense use.

Evaluation (25 min.)

Group Competition: writing present continuous tense sentences describing a picture with lots of activity.

1. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. (If the class has different levels, choose groups so each group will have some more and some less proficient students, and be more or less evenly matched).  

2. Pass out copies of a picture with many different activities to each group or have students open their texts or picture dictionaries to an appropriate picture. If students are using the New Oxford Picture Dictionary (for example), try pg.90-91 to describe actions at the beach. 

You can also suggest they can refer to pg. 96-97 for more action verbs they can use with ‘’to be’ by adding ‘ing’ to the end of the verb.  Demo with #6 ‘run’, #12 ‘surf’, & # 13 “ride” (note we drop a final ‘e’ before adding ing) , but tell them they don’t need to worry about exact spelling yet—we’ll do spelling rules in a later lesson.  

3. After a demo, each group makes a list of sentences describing what people are doing in the picture. (During demo point out that students should take turns making up the sentences, but one may write them all if the group prefers.) The group with the most correct present continuous tense sentences “wins.”

Circulate to observe, then call ‘time’ and collect and check the sentences.  All sentences count if they have the correct present continuous form. Note spelling and other errors for later but for now only announce the winning group. 

If competition is a problem for your students, have each group make as many sentences as they can, then compile them into a class list, with groups taking turns adding new statements to the list.


If your students enjoy working in groups, check out the Clothing Vocabulary lesson too. It’s also a lot of fun, and may work better even better if competition is a problem where you teach. See also Grammar Worksheets and ESL Classroom Games for inexpensive lessons and games to practice past tense irregular verbs.

Home> ESL Lesson Plans> Introducing the Present Continuous Tense.

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