Teaching the Future

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Teaching the future in English sounds like it should be quite simple. To talk about the present you use the present simple, so when you talk about the future you use the future simple. Right?

Well, if you know anything about the English language and the tense system, you’ll know that things are not that straightforward.

When it comes to talking about the future, there are a range of constructions we can use to communicate our meaning. We can use will, going to, the present continuous or the present simple, just to name a few.

Will

Will + verb

  • Used for promises, predictions or instant decisions
  • I’ll always love you.
  • They’ll win.
  • I’ll have the pasta cabonara, please.

Going to

Going to + verb

  • Used for intentions and plans, and predictions based on evidence
  • I’m going to go shopping after school today.
  • It’s going to rain later.

The present continuous:

Be + verb + ing

  • Used for arrangements
  • I’m having lunch with Sarah on Thursday.

The present simple:

Verb

  • Used for timetables or scheduled events
  • My flight leaves at 3 o’clock

A few other constructions which we can use are the future progressive, future perfect and the future perfect progressive, and this is what we’re going to focus on in this post.

The future progressive:

Will + be + verb + ing

  • Used to talk about something that will be happening at a certain point in the future
  • At 8 o’clock tonight I’ll be eating dinner.

The future perfect:

Will + have + past participle

  • Used to talk about an action which will have been completed at a certain point in the future
  • By 9 o’clock tonight I will have finished dinner.

The future perfect progressive:

Will + have + been + verb + ing

  • Used to talk about an action which will be completed at some point in the future
  • By 11 o’clock tonight I will have been sleeping for 2 hours.

As you can imagine, this can be quite confusing for our learners. What we need to do to help them grasp the idea of using numerous different constructions to talk about the future, is to expose them to various contexts and examples of the structure in use. Find materials which use the different constructions in context and highlight their forms and meanings through these materials.

Then, relate the language to the students’ personal lives by showing them how they would use the language in their day-to-day conversations. In other words, be authentic in your application of the language, as this will clear up any confusion students may have about talking about the future in English.

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