Tips for Teaching Verb Tenses: Language Mastery

Today’s post is all about teaching verbs! When working toward mastery, students will be learning a multitude of components for language. It can be overwhelming when you look at the number of standards and skills that correlate to each part of language. But, today I am breaking down the skills that students will need when you are teaching verbs!

Common Core Standards:

  • L.1.1.e- Use verbs to convey a sense of past, present, and future (e.g., Yesterday I walked home; Today I walk home; Tomorrow I will walk home).
  • L.2.1.d- Form and use the past tense of frequently occurring irregular verbs (e.g., sat, hid, told).
  • L.3.1.d- Form and use regular and irregular verbs.
  • L.3.1.f- Form and use the simple (e.g., I walked; I walk; I will walk) verb tenses.
  • L.4.1.b- Form and use the progressive (e.g., I was walking; I am walking; I will be walking) verb tenses.

Keep it Simple

Past Present Future anchor chart, Verb Tense anchor chart

In the early stages of verb instruction, teachers will want to keep it simple!  Students will need many opportunities to identify and categorize verbs. In first grade, students will need to recognize past, present, and future tenses. An easy, interactive, reusable anchor chart is the way to go! With a stack of sticky notes and a marker, your students can use this anchor chart again and again.

*Teacher Tip: After initial instruction, where you will work with students on how to identify verb tense, how to use the anchor chart, etc., students can continue to add verbs they find within their own reading and writing. When you are back in a lesson at a later time, you and your students can sort the sticky note verbs for a few minutes before moving on to your lesson.

Past Present Future Verb Tenses Activity

Adding verb tense activities into your small group instruction and centers will be helpful, too! This simple card sorting activity can be done independently, with a partner, or even in a group. Be sure to include several options for each category to ensure students have ample opportunities to practice their skills!

Verb Tense Spelling Rules

Past Tense Verbs activity- Tips for Teaching Verb Tenses

Students are not only going to be using verb tense skills in reading and language. They will need explicit instruction on verb tense spelling rules. Start with the 4 rules of past tense verbs:

  • Add -ed: If the word ends with a consonant…
  • Add -d: If the word ends with an e…
  • Double the consonant, add -ed: If the word ends with a vowel+ a single consonant.
  • Change the y to i, add -ed: If the word ends with a y.

The activity in the photo above is good for students when they are learning past tense spelling rules. Students will be able to choose which rule applies and then rewrite the word correctly. Having the rules listed in the activity is going to be key while students are first learning this skill. After students have had some practice, your activities can exclude the rules.

Working with the Rule Breakers

Irregular Verb anchor chart- Tips for Teaching Verb Tenses

When teaching verbs in second grade, we need to introduce irregular past tense verbs. These rule-breakers may be more difficult for students to learn but can be taught like sight words! Keep a running list of irregular verbs on display in your room. *Teacher tip: have the verbs written in the present tense on the poster. Have sticky notes for the irregular verb spelling so that you can remove them and students can practice their skills!

Irregular Verbs activity- Tips for Teaching Verb Tenses

Similar to sight words, irregular verbs are going to be best taught with continued exposure and practice. Provide students with several different types of activities that have them rewriting verbs in the past tense, identifying irregular past tense verbs, etc.

Irregular verbs activity- Tips for Teaching Verb Tenses

Because irregular verbs don’t follow a set of rules, you will need to spiral your instruction. Continue to include activities like the ones above in your small group and center work. Students will need to continue developing these skills throughout elementary school until they’ve gained mastery.

Subject/Verb Agreement

Subject verb Agreement anchor chart for your verb tense unit

In third grade, your students are going to be learning about subject/verb agreement, as well! I have always found this skill to be fairly straight-forward. After teaching the rules, students should be able to pick up this skill through practice.

Teach your students the following rules:

  • When the subject is singular, the verb needs an -s.
  • When the subject is plural (including compound), the verb doesn’t need an -s.
  • Rule Breakers- I and you: no -s.
Subject Verb Agreement activity for your verb tense unit

*Teaching tip: Include similar phrases in your subject-verb agreement activities at first. This will give students a chance to work with both options while initially learning!

Progressive Verb Tense

Progressive Verb Tenses anchor chart

By fourth grade, students will be working with progressive verb tenses. I liked to teach my kiddos the *3* things to remember. 1) A linking verb, 2) the main verb, and 3) -ing!

Similar to the other verb skills, using an interactive chart for progressive verbs is a great tool! The chart above uses sticky notes to rewrite verbs in the correct progressive verb tense. You can change out the verbs over time to keep the chart relevant and effective!

Progressive verb tenses activity

*Teaching tip: Integrate writing when working with progressive verb tense. Have students expand their writing while applying the progressive tense to specific verbs.

Suggested Resources

If you’d like any of the activities from this lesson, take a closer look at your grade level’s language unit. Each unit includes a week of lesson plans, graphic organizers, centers and activities, and more!


I have created a few activities in ready-made Google Slides. These are for first and second grade. (Kinder, 3rd, and 4th will come coming soon!)

Want more Language tips? Here are a few language blogs for you!

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