The simplest use of Present Continuous is to talk about things that are in some way in progress now/ presently/ currently/ at the moment, which is the main focus of this article. This use is often contrasted with Present Simple for present routines/ habits/ repeated actions. In normal communication, Present Continuous is perhaps more useful to talk about future arrangements such as meetings, dates and appointments, but this is so different from the basic meaning that there will be another article on that future use. There are a couple of activities in this article for the much rarer use of Present Continuous to talk about regular habits – often annoying ones – like “She’s always sucking her teeth”.
For all these uses, students will need to practise different forms of “be” (“I am”, “he is” etc.), pronunciation of contractions of “be” (“she’s”, “we aren’t” etc.), and spelling rules for “-ing” verbs. The activities below provide plenty of practice of these, also teaching lots of useful verbs and collocations along the way.
The activities below start with ones with no or minimal resources, move onto ones that need worksheets, and finish with various uses of technology to practise this tense. Ones which could fit into more than one of those sections are described in the more obvious section then briefly mentioned at the end of the other(s). Inside each section, the activities are organised in approximate order of how often I would use them. Most of the worksheets described here are available online for free, often on this site.
Present Continuous tense activities with no or minimal resources
1. Make me say “Yes, I am”/ Make me say “No, I’m not”Students take turns asking yes/ no questions that they think their partner will probably say “Yes, I am” to such as “Are you sitting down?” and “Are you feeling tired?”. They get one point for each positive answer from their partner, as long as no one has already used that question. Students might need a list of suggested verbs such as “wear”, “think”, “worry”, “touch”, “move” and “carry”. You could also allow sentences with your like “Are your eyelashes moving?”
2. Happening now brainstorming
Students look around the room and/ or out of the window and make as many true sentences as they can about what is happening, e.g. “She is breathing” and “They are walking”. If you want to score, give one point for each sentence that hadn’t been said before, perhaps allowing the same sentence with a different subject (“He is breathing”, “We are breathing” etc.) with lower level groups. If you are including actions in the classroom, you can encourage the other students to do lots of actions for their classmates to make sentences about, or you can do the opposite and encourage them to try and stay still and so only accidentally give their classmates something to describe (e.g. “He is sniffing”). You might want to allow use of bilingual dictionaries to boost the level of language used.
You can also do this game with only one person looking and the other people guessing what is happening outside the window etc., with the person who is looking giving points for any sentences which are both factually and grammatically correct.
3. What are you hearing?
Students guess what is happening from what they can hear. The sounds can be things happening naturally in the class (“A clock is ticking”), sounds that the teacher or their classmates are making deliberately (“You are kicking the table”), or things happening on a video or in a recording. They obviously need to close their eyes for most of these, or their view can be blocked, for example with a piece of cardboard in front of the TV or a blanket held up behind which people make sounds. If you have the technology, groups of students could also gather sounds on a recording device and then play them back for others to guess, or find similar sounds online.
Students can just guess what action they are hearing (“Somebody is moving their desk” etc.), who is doing it (“Who is coughing?” “Joao is coughing” etc.), or how many people are doing it (“How many people are jumping?” “Seven people are jumping” etc.)
Suitable actions for students to deliberately make noises with in the classroom include “opening and closing”, “knocking on”, “pushing”, “dropping”, “kicking”, and “turning”.
4. Present Continuous things in common
Students work together to find Present Continuous sentences which are true about both of them, e.g. “We are both sitting down”, “We are both breathing”, “We are both feeling a little cold” and “Our parents are working right now”. If you want to score, you can give them one point for each true sentence which none of the other groups thought of.
5. Present Continuous projects
Students draw the scene that they are told to and add as many pictures of people doing suitable things for that situation as they can, with a written description for each. For example, students work together to draw 20 or so people in a park and label each person with what they are doing. The pictures can be drawn, cut from magazines, or found online. The same thing can also be done with animals, robots, monsters, aliens etc. doing the actions.
The projects can be made more realistic and given context by making them advertising or instructional posters, e.g. a poster of a theme park showing all the things that people are having fun doing at one moment in time, or a poster showing all the things that are good and bad for the environment that people are doing in a town right now.
6. I don’t know what he’s doing
Students try to ask questions about their partners’ families etc. that the person answering doesn’t know the answer to, e.g. “What is your father doing?” and “Is your mother watching TV?”
You can also make this into a bluffing game by students answering all questions and the questioners guessing which answers are made up, perhaps after asking for more details like “Why is he/ she doing that?” and “How do you know?” Especially with this variation, students can also answer questions about their partners’ neighbours, friends, local postal worker, boss, teacher in other classes, etc.
7. Present Continuous time zones guessing game
Using a map, globe or list of time zones, a student chooses a country and describes what is probably happening there now without saying its name, e.g. “They are sleeping on futons” or “They are eating tacos and playing guitars”. As well as matching the country, the sentence must reflect the time in that place (by students calculating from the time differences). Students continue giving hints until their partner guesses which country they are thinking of.
8. Present Continuous picture search
Students are given magazines, catalogues or books that include lots of pictures of people doing different things, e.g. fashion magazines, picture dictionaries or visual encyclopaedias. Different people can have the same books etc or different ones each. Students search for pictures that match what the teacher or a classmate says (e.g. “Someone is running”) as quickly as possible. They can also search for a picture and sentence that no one else can find, or search for a picture and sentence that no one has said yet.
This game can also be played with people spotting things in single very detailed pictures such as pages from a “Where’s Wally?” book.
9. I’m still not getting through
Students roleplay telephone conversations where one person is trying over and over to get through to the same other person, with the receptionist who answers giving a different reason each time why that person isn’t available. This should eventually lead to more unusual and amusing excuses like “He’s out jogging”. Students can then brainstorm and rank good and bad excuses in that situation, and maybe try the same activity again.
10. We’re boasting on the phone
Students take turns describing the perfect scene where they are, trying to outdo the other person with how wonderful the situation they are in is, for example “The sun is shining and the birds are singing” “That sounds nice. Here are millions of stars are twinkling and a few flakes of perfect snow are falling slowly from the sky”. You can ask students to imagine specific scenes such as particular countries, tourist resorts, or holiday homes. It is also possible to do it the other way round, with students “boasting” how awful the situation they are in, with situations like holidays, city living, shared housing and jobs.
11. Present Continuous memory games
Students describe what is happening now from memory, i.e. without being able to see what they are speaking about. The simplest way of organising this is for students to close their eyes and answer questions about what is happening around them, e.g. “Where is John sitting?” and “What colour shoes is Jeremy wearing?” Alternatively, they can brainstorm everything that they can remember without questions to prompt them.
The same thing can be done with a picture that is turned over or scene from a video that is turned off, probably after they look for 30 seconds and try to memorise it first.
12. Present Continuous guessing from hints games
Students guess the Present Continuous action or person doing it from spoken clues.
For the guess the action version, hints can include who is doing that action now (“Many people all over the world are doing this now, but only a few people in this country are doing it”, “My father is doing it now, and I guess your father is doing it too”, etc.), or how the person who is doing it feels (“I’m feeling bored/ excited/ scared/ etc.”)
Students can guess the person from Present Continuous hints like “He’s working now”, “He’s probably sitting in front of a computer” and “He’s almost certainly wearing a tie”. The person can be someone who the person speaking knows (e.g. a family member) or someone with a certain job.
The time zones game above is a variation on this.
13. Present Continuous spelling code game
Give or dictate a list of numbers associated with each letter of the alphabet, e.g. “A = 23”, “B = 16”, etc. After checking that students have the right list of numbers written down, read out an –ing form (e.g. “putting”), a Present Continuous phrase (“I’m wearing”, “He is sitting”, etc.) or short Present Continuous sentence (“She’s having a bath”). Students write down what they hear, add up the numbers associated with those letters, and shout out the total, e.g. “A hundred and twelve!” The first person to shout out the right answer wins that round. Students can then take the teacher’s role of reading things out and judging who got the right answer first.
This game is good for recognising contractions and practising when to put double letters in –ing forms (“shutting” but not “warnning” etc.)
14. Present Continuous Kim’s game
Students step out of the class, close their eyes or look away. When they look again, they should list the things which have changed, e.g. “Henry is wearing a jacket” or “The teacher is sitting down” because those things changed while they weren’t looking. They can also do the same thing with pictures with differences (“The old woman is drinking coffee” because that was different in the first version of the picture that you showed them) or two scenes from a video (“She is wearing his jacket” because that has changed while the video has been turned off). The videos and photos can also be made by students if you have the equipment.
15. Present Continuous instructional play
Students design and act out a play showing someone doing lots of wrong things such as things that are bad for the environment, things which aren’t allowed in school, or things which are dangerous. One of the people in the group or someone in the audience shouts “Stop” when something bad happens, the people acting freeze, and their teammate or someone from the audience says what bad thing is happening which shouldn’t be, and why it shouldn’t be done.
The same thing can easily be done with the teacher doing the actions, or with students filming their plays on video cameras.
16. Present Continuous 20 questions
One student thinks of a verb and the other person asks questions like “Am I doing this now?”, “Are you doing this now?”, “How many people in the world are doing this now?”, “Are most people in Brazil doing this now?” etc until they guess which action is being thought of. The students will probably need suggested questions like these, and maybe a list of possible verbs like “breathe” and “sit”.
17. Present Continuous picture similarities and differences
Give students pictures of two busy scenes, e.g. two street demonstrations, two pictures from Where’s Wally (= Where’s Waldo) books, or two photos of crowded town squares. Without showing their pictures to each other, students must find Present Continuous sentences that are true of both pictures or are only true of one (depending on what you tell them to do). It’s obviously usually easier to find differences than similarities in such real pictures.
Many books also have photocopiable version of this, usually with each pair of students having the same picture with five or ten small variations, similar to a children’s spot the difference puzzle but again with students doing it without looking at each other’s pictures. It’s quite difficult to make your own versions of this, because if you Tippex a picture and make changes it’s usually too obvious where you’ve done so. Although this is less satisfying than a single picture, the same thing works with twelve or so ClipArt pictures of actions on the worksheets, with four or five of them being at least slightly different.
18. Present continuous tennis
Students “serve” an “I” Present Continuous phrase or sentence such as “I’m skiing” or “I am taking a photo”, their partner returns with the second person form of the same thing, e.g. “You’re skiing”. This continues through all the subjects that you want to practise. To “return”, the next person must then choose another verb or sentence to continue the game with such as “I’m feeling hungry”. If anyone makes a mistake or pauses for too long, they start again with a serve with a new verb. This continues until someone has reached the number of points that you set them as a goal, or the person with highest number of points when you stop the game wins.
19. Bad and worse actions
Students take turns “boasting” about how annoying their (imaginary) spouse, parents, teacher, friend, siblings etc. are using Present Continuous, e.g. “My brother is always picking his nose” “That’s nothing. My sister is always picking her nose and eating it”. Whenever both sides run out of ideas, they discuss which person actually sounds more annoying and/ or guess how much of that was actually true about their real sister etc.
20. We are cutting
Students cut up scrap paper into the shapes of people (or animals, robots etc.) doing actions. This can be producing what the teacher or a classmate says (e.g. “A horse is running”, with points for the quickest and/ or best options), or trying to come up with as many shapes and matching sentences as possible (written and/ or spoken).
21. He’s doing that first
Students are dealt out pictures which should be in some kind of order such as a cut-up comic strip (with no dialogue). They have to describe what is happening to put them back into order without showing them to each other, e.g. “In my picture a boy is tying someone’s shoe laces together” and “In my picture a man is falling over, so it must be after yours”.
What Are You Seeing?, Present Continuous Miming Games and Present Continuous Drawing Competitions below are also possible with no or minimal resources.
Photocopiables for classroom practice of Present Continuous
22. Present Continuous miming games
Miming sentences like “You are drinking tea” and “A gorilla is beating its chest” is by far the most obvious thing to do with the basic meaning of Present Continuous, as it means students are using the tense as they see an action in progress. To make that true, the teacher or students should always continue doing the action until the people watching guess what is being done (so that it is not more accurate to say “You jumped” or “You were jumping”).
It’s also possible for students to come up with their own things to mime. A nice way of doing this is to give them a verb and ask them to take turns making actions that go with it, e.g. “You’re having a bath”, “You’re having breakfast” and “You’re having a good time” for “having”. This can still be done as a guessing game, or students can get one point for each action they can both say and do. Students could also work in mixed-sex groups so that they can get one point for each of “I’m swimming”, “We’re swimming”, “He’s swimming”, etc.
A variation that involves both the teacher giving ideas and students coming up with their own is the teacher giving a list of complex processes such as “You are making pizza” and “You are changing a bicycle tyre”. The students mime single actions from that process one by one, with their classmates trying to guess both the actions and the larger process, e.g. “You rolling some dough. You’re making cookies.” “I am rolling some dough but I’m not making cookies. Here’s the next action”.
Livelier classes might prefer to race to do the mime that the teacher chooses, with one point for the first correct mime. To make it match the meaning of being in progress, the sentence will need to be held up and left up while the miming is going on, or shouted out over and over (by the teacher and/ or by the people doing the mimes).
Guessing and doing mimes can be made more challenging and fun by the mimes being made with just hands (e.g. two fingers down representing a standing person), shadows, puppets, soft toys, etc.
Another kind of miming challenge is for two or more students to try to exactly mirror each other’s actions, with the people watching trying to spot and point out differences, e.g. “He’s jumping but she’s hopping” or “She’s winking one eye but he’s blinking both eyes”.
You can add cultural training to these activities by having gestures that vary by country, e.g. “You are calling a waiter” or “You are telling someone that it’s a secret”.
23. Present Continuous drawing competitions
Present Continuous drawing competitions can be to draw a sentence until the people watching guess what the sentence is, rush to make the fastest and/ or best picture of the sentence that the teacher or a classmate says (“She’s playing with a yoyo” etc), or draw and write as many correct Present Continuous sentences as they can on the topic given (“At school” etc) within the time limit.
24. Make them doing it
Students arrange slips of paper with words written on them to make sentences like “He + is + wearing + long + pink + socks” and “The + lion + is + sleeping”, then read out their completed sentences.
You can ask them to make sentences of things that they’d like to draw on a picture, real things that are happening in the classroom, things that they want people to act out, or just things that could be true. Whether you want to then eliminate those slips of paper from the game or put them back onto the table to be also used to make different sentences later is up to the teacher, but the latter is usually better.
For students who have problems with reading and/ or grammar, you might want to provide different kinds of words on different coloured paper and/ or different sizes of paper, e.g. all the subject pronouns on small pieces of blue paper and all the verbs on larger green paper.
25. Present Continuous accusations
Students ask questions using the Present Continuous about bad things that they imagine their partner is doing such as “Why are you hitting your brother?” or “Why are you wearing underpants on your head?” Their partner must give a reason (i.e. they can’t say that they aren’t doing it). The person who asked the question can reject bad reasons like “Because I hate him” for “Why are you hitting your brother?” Note that students will probably need to be at least Pre-Intermediate level to be able to explain their reasons in English. They will also probably need a few on a worksheet to choose from before they start making up their own accusations.
26. This is what I’m saying
Make a list of functional language which is used in particular situations, e.g. “I would have loved to, but…” for politely rejecting invitations or “Thanks for having me” when you leave someone’s house. The teacher or a student says one or more phrase for one situation and the other people guess the situation with a Present Continuous sentence, e.g. “You are rejecting an invitation” or “You are leaving someone’s house”. More confident classes can also try this game with just a list of situations (“Apologising” etc) before being given the phrases to use.
27. Bad habits sentence completion bluff
Students fill in the gaps in some sentence stems on a worksheet to make true and made-up complaints about their neighbours, classmates, cousins, etc., e.g. “My mother is always telling me ______________________” and “My bus driver is always _____________________ the steering wheel”. Students fill in at least half of the sentences with a mix of facts and imagination, then take turns reading out their sentences. After questions about details (during which they can continue lying if the sentence was made up), their partners guess if the sentence is true or false.
28. Shooting blind
This is based on a common use of Present Continuous in movies, namely someone working for the secret services or police describing what is going on into a microphone. In the most dramatic version of this game, one person is blindfolded and given something such as a pencil to pretend is a gun. One person walks around the room and the other members of the class describe what they are doing, using a Present Continuous sentence each time such as “He’s walking in front of the whiteboard” and “He’s standing behind the teacher”. You’ll need to be strict about use of this form so that they don’t just use prepositions of position. Whenever the person with the “gun” feels confident of being able to shoot the right person (without hitting any innocent bystanders and obviously without being able to look), they aim and make a shooting noise. The rest of the class then judges how successful their shot was.
A less dramatic version is for the person to go around the room and suddenly commit some kind of crime, with the blindfolded person deciding when to launch an arrest, with announcing too early or late being a failure.
This can also be done with a video, with the person facing away from the screen deciding when to shoot or arrest someone from the description of the people who can see what is going on.
Present Continuous Verb Guessing and Present Continuous Spelling Code Game above can also be done with worksheets, as can Present Continuous Time Zones Guessing Game with a worksheet giving the time zones of different countries. More artistic teachers might be able to make their own Present Continuous Picture Similarities and Differences Worksheets.
Technology-based Present Continuous classroom activities
29. Video activities for Present Continuous
Students can guess what is happening just from the sounds on a video and watch and check, make as many true sentences as they can about a paused scene, shout out Present Continuous sentences as the video is playing (getting no points if the action ends before they finish speaking, as that would make the tense incorrect), or shout out Present Continuous sentences from their worksheet when they think they are true. The last of those activities can be good practice for typical confusions like “He is watching…” and “He is looking at…”, with points taken off for sentences that are shouted out if they aren’t (exactly) true.
The shouting out their own ideas for what is happening can also be limited in some way, e.g. only things which seem dangerous or naughty.
If you have access to videoing technology, groups of students could also make similar videos for the whole class to do those activities with.
Shooting Blind above can also be done with a video.
30. Pictures of Present Continuous
Students take digital photos of each other doing actions and then share them with the class. The challenge can be to come up with pictures and Present Continuous sentences that no other group has made, to take obscure photos that are difficult to work out the action from, or to take photos to illustrate how to do or not to do something, e.g. different suitable and unsuitable woodworking actions.
31. What are you seeing?
Students guess what action a picture shows even though they can only see a tiny part of it, it is shrunk very small, or it is very blurred. It grows or becomes more and more in focus until they get the right sentence.
This is also possible with pictures where the action is ambiguous due to the lack of information in them, with things becoming as the teacher gives hints, a video slowly progresses or they race to read the explanation in texts on the pictures.
This is easiest with a computer and projector, but can also be done with an overhead projector. This is also possible without technology by hiding a card and revealing it bit by bit from behind another card.
32. Celebrities now
Students search social media for what famous people are doing right now, with points for actions which are probably still happening when they announce them to the class, plus maybe bonus points for interesting information. All reports to the class should be in the Present Continuous tense, e.g. “Justin Bieber is singing in Wembley Stadium”. This works best with Twitter, because people don’t have to be a member or be “friended” to read the tweets. They will need to make note of when the tweet was sent each time so that other people can judge whether it is still ongoing or not.
33. Only one person is doing it
Students try to make Present Continuous sentences that (just about) make sense but have only one result on Google or Google images. For example, I found that was true for “She is eating a desk” or “He is chewing a feather”. Students will need to use quotation marks (or the equivalent for other search engines) to make sure that other combinations of those words don’t come up as results.
34. Present Continuous songs
Quite a few pop songs and children’s songs include a significant number of Present Continuous sentences, with maybe the most famous being Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega. However, it’s quite difficult to know what you can do with such songs to actually increase students’ understanding of or ability to use this tense. Many worksheets online just get students putting –ing forms or be + ing into gaps, but unless they still have problems with subject + be or contractions it is difficult to imagine that they learn much from such an activity. If you can get students singing along, that should help them memorise the structure and some of the verbs and collocations in the song. To reinforce that memory building, you could get them to sing along from more limited clues than the full lyrics would provide such as lyrics with blanks, just verb forms in the infinitive, or just pictures.
Personally, I’m a bit too embarrassed to have actual singing in adult and teenage classes, so the job then is to find alternative things to do before, during and after listening to the song. Perhaps the best way is to almost ignore the actual –ing form and have students guess the collocations instead, e.g. joining subjects and verbs or verbs and objects, then listening to check. They could also guess what –ing phrases they will hear from pictures and/ or a description of the situation described in the song, then listen to check.
35. What are six billion people doing?
Students research data like time zones and populations of countries to make statements like “Two billion people are sleeping right now” and “Over one million people are suffering from malaria”. Searching terms like “are suffering from” and “half the world’s population” might help them find such info. Students get one point for each sentence that the class accept is true and no one else thought of. Students will need to find out when the information was put online so that other people can judge whether it is probably still true or not, or you can ask them to update any old figures according to their own ideas of the probable trends.
Present Continuous Instructional Play above can also be done with use of a video camera, and Present Continuous Kim’s Game can be done with a DVD, video camera or digital camera. Present Continuous Memory Games above can also be done with a DVD. What Are You Hearing? can be done with a DVD, music player, or recording device.