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Writing in the Present, Past, and Future: The Dog and Its Bone: Intermediate ESL

Objective: In groups of three, students will write a story. First, by looking at three sequential pictures, they will name the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs that they see. Then, they will write the words they’ve discovered on separate lists. Focusing on the verbs, students will notice how main verbs in English use helping verbs for number and tense. When the class understands this, they will write a story of three paragraphs, prompted by the pictures. The first paragraph will be written in the past, the second will be written in the present, and the third paragraph will be written in the future. Groups will write their finished stories on newsprint and hang them up. With the teacher, the class will review and correct mistakes.

Method: Groups of three, teacher talk, interactive lecture, students working together

Pictures One, Two and Three
Bilingual dictionaries
Newsprint, markers

Here is a PDF to download and print. It includes the three pictures, Correction Marks, and a Verb Chart:

The Dog and Its Bone PDF

Picture One

Picture Two

Picture Three

I. Discovering Vocabulary to Write a Story

1. First, put students in groups of three, and hand out the three pictures to each group. Let them get close and share. Don’t hand out the pictures in order—shuffle them up—and let each group decide which picture comes first, second and third.

2. After there is a class consensus on the sequence, beginning with Picture One, students will share the words they know in English by examining the pictures and using bilingual dictionaries to find the equivalent word in their own languages. It will be the job of the students to match each word they know to its part of speech. Is it a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb?

3. Give groups about twenty to thirty minutes to look at each picture and find all the words they see. While they do this, the teacher prepares four sheets of newsprint with the titles Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs, and hangs them up. If the teacher is short on paper, Adjectives and Adverbs can share the same sheet. All groups add their words to the list always checking to see if the word they are going to write is already there. No repeats! In place of newsprint, of course, these lists of parts of speech can be written on the board.

4. With the teacher, the class, using correction marks, corrects misspellings and other mistakes.

II. Discovering Verbs to Write a Story in the Past, Present and Future

To the teacher: Before writing a story, students need to know two things about verbs in English.

First, that main verbs have three principal parts: the base form, the ING, and the Participle. Ask a few students to give you a main verb and write them on the board with all their parts. Students will pick verbs from the list they’ve made.

find, finding, found
walk, walking, walked
eat, eating, eaten

And second, that main verbs need a helping verb to give them their tense, a past, a present, or a future. The twenty helping verbs in English are divided into four families. Ask the class which helping verbs they know and write them on the board.

Do, does, did
Am, are, is, was, were
Have, has, had
Can, shall, will, could, would, should, may, must, might

Before beginning the writing activity, depending on the level of the class, the teacher may want to review verbs, making clear that main verbs in English need helping verbs to give them their subjects and their tenses. Teachers may use what follows as part of their interactive lecture.

1. Examining the Present

There are five helping verbs that help the Present Tense:

do, does, am, are, and is.

Do and does help the base form. Am, are, and is help the ING.

In the yes sentence, the do and does often hide, but are always seen in the no sentence and the question. The do and does can appear in the yes if they want to be emphatic and make a point:

A dog eats (does eat) bones.
A dog doesn’t eat bones.
Does a dog eat bones?
Yes, dogs eat (do eat) bones.
Do cats eat bones?
No, a cat doesn’t eat bones.
But dogs do, dogs do eat bones.

Am, are, and is help the ING in the continuous present:

I am eating.
You are eating.
She is eating.

Am, are, and is (and was and were) are the only helping verbs that can stand alone in a sentence to help the subject tell us what it is.

I am a teacher.
You are a student.
This is your book.

2. Examining the Past

The Past in English is helped by six helping verbs:

was, were, did, have, has and had.

Did gives main verbs specific time in the past and often hides in the yes sentence, but it can never hide in the no sentence and the question.

Did she eat sushi last night?
No, she didn’t eat sushi last night.
She ate (did eat) pizza last night.

Have, has and had help the participle. It gives the main verb unspecific time in the past. We know it happened, but we don’t know when.

When I say, “I have eaten sushi,” that is the past right up to the present. Maybe I’ve eaten sushi a thousand times, maybe I’ve eaten it once a year ago or a second ago, but I have eaten sushi.

We use the helping verb had when two things have happened in the past, and the had happened first.

They had eaten the sushi before we go there.

Was and were help the ING. They are continuous in the past and are happening when something else happens.

I was washing the dishes when the phone rang.
They were walking in the park when it began to rain.

Was and were also help the subject tell us what it is.

The dog was hungry.
The shopping bags were heavy.

3. Examining the Future

Nine helping verbs help main verbs in the possible future. They are called modals. May, must, might, can, could, will, would, should, and shall help the base form in conditional sentences. A conditional sentence gives us a mood, a possibility that might happen if the conditions are right. Only will is truly the future. When we say will, it will happen.

I will swim (that is for certain).

I can swim (but I’m not going to do that now).

I could swim (if I really wanted to).

I might swim (if it’s sunny).

4. Review:

Main verbs in English have three principal parts:

the base form: eat

the ING: eating

and the participle: eaten.

Every principal part is helped by a helping verb. There are twenty helping verbs that are divided into four families:

Do, does, and did help the base form: swim, eat, walk.

Have, has, and had help the participle: swum, eaten, walked

Am, are, is, was, and were help the ING: swimming, eating, walking, swum, eaten, walked

Would, should, could, can, will, shall, may, must, and might help the base form: swim, eat, walk.

The sooner the English learner learns how helping verbs help main verbs, the sooner the learner will speak, read and write English.

III. Writing the Story

1. The class, in their groups, look at Picture One and write a paragraph of what they see happening in the past. The first paragraph will be written in the past.

2. Then, the class, in their groups, look at Picture Two and write a paragraph in the present. The second paragraph will be written in the present.

3. Finally, the class, in their groups, look at Picture Three and write the third paragraph in the future. The third paragraph will be written in the future.

4. Groups write their stories on newsprint and hang them up. Groups go around reading every story and making correction marks where they think a mistake has been made.

5. The teacher with the class reviews the corrections the students have made, and corrects any mistakes that have been missed.

Every group gets some applause. Every student likes recognition and praise. A lesson for the teacher is always to find something good to say and be encouraging. During the review of the stories, the students should be standing with the teacher up close and thoroughly engaged. Do not let them sit! After the applause, they may sit.

For Further Reference

Using Correction Marks


A Closer Look at Main Verbs and Helping Verbs


The Parts of Speech


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