When it’s time to teach the usual suspects of ‘Will, Going To, and the Present Continuous’ to talk about the future in the English classroom, it can sometimes take a small, single moment or context for a student to visualise the finer differences in usage. Rather than present a full, conventional classroom activity of any kind, I have instead decided to write about a neat, involving situation I occasionally use to contextualise the various future tenses of English, all within a familiar context of making decisions regarding a forthcoming party.
The tenses covered are nothing more complicated than Future (Will), Future (Going to), and the Present Continuous (to talk about future arrangements). It takes a mere couple of minutes, can be used to bridge the gap between some more prominent activities in the classroom, and may help students to remember which tense to use when making future decisions, while further demonstrating how to use the Present Continuous for confirmed future arrangements and not just refer to the present.
1 – Setting the Scene (‘Will’ for ‘Spontaneous Decisions’)
Apropos of nothing, perhaps, tell your students:
“You are all invited to a special party at the weekend! It is a party just for English students, and all you need to do is bring one special thing to make the party even better!”
Once you have given your students a moment or two to consider what they would like to bring, point at each of your students (to a maximum of, say, twelve – it may pay to be selective if you have more) and ask the question “What will you bring on Saturday?” or “What do you want to bring to this party?” if you prefer.
On a board, note only the objects / things that they mention (food, drinks, music, games, etc.) in a vertical list. Model the response “I’ll bring _______!”, including any relevant focus on countable/uncountable nouns, quantifiers, and so forth. If a student suggests something fun and successfully uses ‘Will’ for spontaneous decisions, add it to the board.
2 – How forgetful! (‘Going to’ for ‘Decisions Made Before Speaking’)
Now you have a list of (hopefully) weird and wonderful things on the board, it’s time to reveal to your student that you have made a mistake in your preparation! Oops! (Holding your head in your hands is optional.)
Yes, you know exactly what people will be bringing to the party, but have no idea who will bring what! Therefore, politely request that your students remind you who is going to bring what! Point at a random object on the board and say “Who is going to bring (the chocolate cake)? I can’t remember!” Model the response “I‘m going to bring (chocolate cake)!”, showing that this is different from before since you have made this decision before speaking, whereas before it was a more spontaneous action.
By the end of this drill, you should now have a list on your board of various party paraphernalia with corresponding names alongside. Marvel with your students at what a wonderful party this is going to be!
3 – So, to confirm… (‘Present Continuous’ for ‘Future Social Arrangements’)
Now that your party plan is more or less complete on the board, you can verbally confirm the arrangements for the party. This can be done in any number of relatively straightforward ways, but I recommend the following ‘game’:
Place students in pairs. Before we begin, tell the students to memorise the list as quickly and accurately as possible in just 30-60 seconds (depending on how evil you are feeling!). While the students are busy memorising, either take a picture of the board on your smartphone or quickly note the name/object pairings for reference.
When time is up, erase the objects from the board, leaving only the students’ names on the board! Together with their partners, the pairs will need to exchange sentences back and forth using the present continuous and the verb bring, running through the names in any order based on what they remember. They should begin with themselves, so the exchange may follow this pattern:
A: I’m bringing vodka!
B: And I’m bringing orange juice.
A: Okay, I remember that Jenny is bringing chocolates.
B: Yes, and Paul is bringing his PlayStation.
This exchange should continue until they cannot remember any more details – the winner being the person who last gave what they believed to be a correct confirmation! It should merely be a short and sweet game of tennis in which the pairs bat the present continuous back and forth to each other.
To wrap things up, you can test the whole class’s memory by ticking off your reference list while confirming with the target student that they are definitely not going to let you down! (You are definitely bringing the expensive whisky on Saturday, right?!).
This little set of drills/role plays will not change your students’ worlds, but it may be a useful little addition to a class if you feel that your students are getting bogged down in grammar exercises and are finding it particularly difficult to differentiate between these specific uses of the future tenses. Some students benefit from little segues into the random and I know from experience that some students feel somewhat more refreshed following a little interstitial activity such as this before getting down to some meatier work later on.