Timelines for teaching verb tenses are great. Seriously.
I’ve been telling teachers to use timelines for as long as I can remember, but, strangely enough, they used to play a lesser role in my own classroom practice. I believe this has a lot to do with my baffling inability to make sense of anything that bears the slightest resemblance to a map or a diagram. But some years ago I decided that it was time to put away my fear of shapes and patterns and dust off my old, long-forgotten verb tense timelines. So I finally plucked up the courage to draw the four main narrative tenses on a piece of cardboard, stuck it on the wall, right next to the whiteboard and kept it there throughout the entire course. Whenever a student didn’t know which verb tense to choose or made a mistake (in meaning, rather than form), I would point at the timelines.
Am I glad I did!
My highly heterogeneous group of Upper Intermediate students (B1+ish):
1. Grasped the differences between past, past progressive, past perfect and past perfect continuous surprisingly fast;
2. Did well in controlled practice;
3. Had more successful than unsuccessful attempts at spontaneous use.
Here’s an overview of the most commonly used timelines, taken from englishpage.com, the best place for timelines (and verb tenses!) on the whole world wide web:
Thanks for reading. And, seriously, do give timelines a try.