Past Simple vs. Present Perfect when talking about travel experiences

A: Did you ever go to Paris? Yes, I did
B: When you went to Paris?
A: I go to Paris last Summer with my family.
B: Was good? Yes.

If you think this conversation is an example of good grammar then you need stop taking drugs immediately. Unfortunately, this is often a typical conversation I hear in the classroom, outside the classroom and even sometimes on the grammar-less streets of London. However, if everybody spoke English perfectly, I wouldn’t have a job and I love my job so, I guess every cloud has a silver lining.*

What’s wrong with it? Well, I’m a total grammar nerd so, a lot to be honest </insert angry face>.

Take a look at the conversation above between two people. What are they talking about? Travel – right, simple enough I suppose. But, what grammar tenses do they use? Ok, I’ll be nice and give you a clue, there are two of them.

If you said Past Simple and Present Perfect then DING DING DING – winner winner, chicken dinner.

Ok, good but why do we use these tenses?

If this is you right now, don’t worry. Ok, maybe worry but continue reading anyway.

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Lesson Plan: Present Perfect/Past Simple for Travel

Start the lesson by asking your students to discuss the following questions in pairs for a few minutes and then get some feedback.

  • Do you like to travel?
  • When did you last travel somewhere?
  • What is your most memorable travel experience?

Step 1 – Presentation

Now, ask students to brainstorm some countries and put them on one side of the board.

Ask a few sudents ‘Have you (ever) been to…?‘ If they say yes, ask some questions in the past simple to get more information.

  • Where did you visit?/Which city did you visit?
  • How long did you stay?
  • Who did you go with?
  • Why did you go there?
  • What did you do there?
  • Did you like it?

Step 2 – Practice with a dash of production

Places

Elicit the the first question you asked from your students (present perfect) – board on left. Elicit the other questions (past simple) – board on right. Elicit name, form and why we use present perfect/past simple. Board grammar – including positive and negative examples for your students.

Present Perfect = experiences (finished action – action important, not time)

Past Simple = finished action (time/specific information important)

Instruct your students to do some practice in pairs. Student A ask a question in present perfect to Student B (using countries on the board if needed). If Student B says yes, ask more questions in past simple. If Student B says no, student B to now ask a question in present perfect and so on.

Give them 5-10 minutes depening on the level of the class.

*Note down any mistakes for delayed error correction (step 5)

Activities

Before we focused on experiences travelling to countries now I like to go through some examples of activities we experience while travelling. Brainstorm some activites including the verb (to ride an elephant, to go scuba diving,etc.) and put them on the other side of the board. Get the students to now practice the grammar again but with activities.

*Note down any mistakes for delayed error correction

Step 3 – More practice

Ok, so we’ve presented the grammar, practiced and had some nice production going on – but where’s the worksheet?

Give your students the worksheet. For the first and third activity they should do individually and then compare in pairs. If you are teaching a lower level class or they are struggling a little I would get them to do the second activity in pairs, otherwise follow the steps above.

Step 4 – Production,
production and more
production

There are several ways that we can get the students to produce the target language but that’s going to depend on the level, the students’ abilities and the time frame – you will have to adapt this lesson to suite your needs.

Writing

  • You could get the students to write questions for pair/group discussion
  • Write about their travel experiences

Speaking

  • Hand out a Find Someone Who
  • Create a Find Someone Who with the class
  • Board Game

Step 5 – Error Correction

During this lesson you should have been noting down any mistakes the students made with the grammar. Number and put them on board. Tell students every sentence has a mistake and it’s their job to find the mistake and correct it.

If you want to jazz it up a little you could put them in pairs or smalls groups and award points for corrections.

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