Connect, Grow, Thrive

Tenses on Timeline

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 34 Number 3 Winter 2017

Rita Dick

Self-published Kit (2015)

50 pages, USD 28, from, or email the author at

This self-published Kit provides a set of teaching materials crafted through the author’s 35 years’ experience and with which she has had great personal success. The Kit consists of a Student’s Book with a CD-ROM, six glossy cardstock pages with colour diagrams to be cut into cards and used for practise with the last item in the pack: a large (three A4 pages) piece of cardstock with matching diagrams called the Timeline Board. The CD-ROM includes the Teacher’s Book, a presentation by the author about herself and the inspiration for the book, as well as part two of the series which deals with the passive voice. This includes the Student’s Book with activity cards and Timeline Board in PDF format. These materials were designed for students entering high school or for an intensive refresher course for those who have been taught the English tenses but are still struggling.

The book presents the verb tenses in groups, highlighting similarities and drawing students’ attention to the shared structural and usage characteristics of simple tenses, progressive tenses, perfect tenses, and perfect progressive tenses. Each of these groups has its own shape and colour. The author then provides a thorough demonstration of different structures (affirmative, negative, and interrogative forms) as well as a list of time expressions which are frequently used with the different tenses. Finally, the cards can be distributed to students to arrange on the Timeline Board, demonstrating an understanding of the grammar while making short stories about four characters.

I find the idea of presenting the verb tenses together and highlighting their similarities to be excellent. I also think assigning shapes and colours to the tenses as a way of referring to the language without using language is a useful mnemonic device for learners which is accessible no matter what their L1. However, the best way of exploiting the material is only lightly explained in the Teacher’s Book. The instructions for Lesson 1 advise the teacher to “Explain… show… introduce… show… present… [and] emphasize” (p. 9) with little reference to what the students should be doing other than “ask the students to pay attention to the repeated pattern”. I want to use these materials with my students, but more than that I want my students to use these materials. However, it is not very clear what the students are supposed to be doing or what type of errors the activities are meant to address.

The use of narrative in teaching is another element I like, so I was happy to see the use of stories in the presentation of the tenses. But these stories seem to have been written in order to demonstrate the verb tenses (one sentence in each tense) rather than to be enjoyed on their own and then evaluated at a structural level. Frustratingly, for exemplars of isolated verb tenses, some of the sentences lack a certain amount of precision and clarity. Furthermore, the task of arranging the sentences on the Timeline Board seems like it could be accomplished just by matching the shapes and colours of the cards without necessarily understanding the relationship between the tenses and the sequence of events. The drawbacks of this type of presentation are that learners might believe that all the tenses are used with the same frequency or that the tenses innately express a distant or recent element of time since every story includes all the tenses and each one progresses from past perfect, to past simple, to present perfect, to present simple, to future perfect, to future simple.

This book presents verb tenses in a thorough manner and offers a useful starting point for teachers who are looking for a fresh way to present the tenses to students who have continued difficulty in using them properly. But without more detailed explanations in the Teacher’s Book, such as how long the presentation should take, what follow-up tasks should be used, including a demonstration of how to use the coloured shapes with real texts rather than just constructed examples, teachers will still need to create their own systems and exercises to help their students gain their own understanding of the complicated English tense system.

Ben Hoyt

School of Management Fribourg