Teaching Present Perfect Continuous with Timelines

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Grammar Teaching Timelines


It’s not easy to teach this grammar point, present perfect continuous but it is possible to do it well.

Keep on reading for some quick tips to do it in style! The timeline way is the approach I use for teaching this potentially confusing English grammar tense. And of course, you could also consider using timelines when you’re teaching many verb tenses, particularly two or more of them at the same time.

Present Perfect Continuous vs. Present Perfect

In my advanced conversation class at a Korean university, Touchstone Level 3 has a section about the present perfect continuous and the present perfect. It’s actually quite¬†¬†complicated and at first glance, I didn’t even really understand the chart in the textbook..

It’s also not something that students understand really easily. So, using timelines for teaching present perfect continuous can be really useful.

Here’s how to do it.

What is the difference between these two sentences?

1. “I’ve been watching Survivor since I was in university.” (present perfect continuous)

2. “I’ve watched survivor since university.” (present perfect)

Both are talking about repeated activities that happen mostly in the past, but what is the difference between the two?¬† It’s subtle and not something that even native speakers can put into words easily.

In the first case, it’s an activity that began in the past. However, it is still happening now.

In the second case, it’s an activity that began in the past. But, it’s a bit ambiguous as to whether or not the activity is happening now.

Make sense? Kind of? Keep on reading for more details about it.

More about the Present Perfect Continuous and the Present Perfect

Confused Students? Use Timelines for Teaching Grammar

Present Perfect Continuous



Present Perfect



Of course, you’ll want to follow this timeline stuff up with some controlled practice, freer practice and then an activity of some kind to help reinforce it!

If you just tell your students this explanation and then don’t practice, it’s almost like you’ve entirely wasted your time. Repetition is the key to any language learning, and difficult grammatical concepts like this one are no exception.

More Details about the Present Perfect Continuous

If your students are like mine, and are maybe tired of hearing your voice, consider showing them this short video to help explain what the present perfect continuous is all about.

This is also a great strategy if you don’t feel that confident in explaining grammar concepts. Check on YouTube and you’re almost sure to find something you need.

Or, if you take a look at how a grammar point is explained in the textbook and feel confused yourself, this isn’t a good sign! If you’re confused, the students will certainly be too. Check out YouTube and you’re sure to find something that’ll work for you.

More Teaching Tips from Jackie

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Have your Say about Teaching English Grammar with Timelines

How do you teach your students the difference between these two grammatical tenses? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts. Do you have a go-to resource that you’d like to share with us?

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