These activities focus on using the present continuous to describe current activities or temporary situations. Activities which focus on its use as a future form can be found on the future forms page (coming soon).
What are you wearing?
Have students describe some things that they are wearing (I’m wearing blue jeans) and then in pairs have them describe to their partners what some of the other students are wearing. (he/she is wearing ...)
The subject of clothes is an ideal way of introducing and practising the present continuous in a relatively natural way. I teach it in conjunction with learning vocabulary about clothes (with a clothes-themed half crossword for example).
Finally, they can play a game where one of the pair silently chooses a student and their partner must find out who by asking questions like:
Is he wearing brown shoes?
Is he wearing a blue t-shirt?
What’s Jill doing?
This activity is good for introducing the present continuous. Put students into pairs and give each pair a copy of the picture sheet and key. Student A has the pictures and student B the key.
Student A should now ask What is … doing? for each of the names on the right side of the sheet. Student B has to find the information and give it to student A who writes the name of the person next to the activity. At the end, the remaining character must be Jill.
I’m generally not a big fan of using mime games with adult students, some seem to be very uncomfortable under that particular spotlight. However, I have found that this mime activity with smaller, ‘universal’ actions performed in small groups goes down well, and students nearly always end up having a good time with it.
Start off by performing a couple of mimes yourself. For example, juggling, playing chess, eating spaghetti. Elicit the present continuous question form and write it on the board.
Are you washing your car?
No, I’m not / Yes, I am
Put students into groups of three to five and give each group a set of mime cards placed face down on the table. Group members take it in turns to take the top card and mime the action given. The other students try to guess what the action is by asking present continuous questions.
Present simple or present continuous photoset
This activity uses a photoset to illustrate the difference in use between present simple and present continuous.
Each photo shows someone with a clearly identifiable job who is doing something that their job doesn’t usually entail. See this post for the photoset and more details.
Describing video scenes
One established way to practise the present continuous is to have students watch a scene from a video and describe what is happening to their unseeing partners. See this page for more information and some example videos.
Describe the (imaginary) picture
In this activity, students describe a picture using useful vocabulary such as, there is, there are and the present continuous tense. It’s good for practising asking questions and stretching your students’ creativity.
To save you searching for suitable pictures and cutting up bits of paper, this web-app allows you to play the game with a smartphone, tablet or PC.
Your students will need to be confident pre-intermediates and above to tackle this activity.
Gather together some reasonably large pictures of people engaged in various interesting activities. Place each picture in an envelope and put them in a pile on a desk at the front of the class.
In this pile, you should also include some envelopes containing ‘fake’ pictures. These are blank pieces of paper, each one with a descriptive phrase written on it. For example, a policeman eating an ice cream, a woman jogging with five dogs, a young couple walking on the beach.
Students take it in turns to sit at the front desk. They take and open a random envelope and describe the contents of the picture inside to the class. Invite the other students to ask the describer for more details. Their goal is to try and form in their own minds a picture as close to the original as possible.
After a few minutes ask whether the students believe the picture being describes is real, or if the describer was creating an imaginary picture.