The verb “to be” is the most commonly used verb in the English language. However, it is an irregular verb in that it does not follow the same grammar rules as regular verbs (in all forms of the present or past tense). This can make it a tricky verb for ELs/MLLs to grasp.
Because of the verb’s irregularity, it is important to explicitly teach the verb “to be”. Teachers can give students a variety of practice in applying the forms of “to be” in their own language usage across all language domains – listening, speaking, reading and writing.
So, what are some ways we can teaching practice the verb “to be” with our ESL students?
1. TEACHING THE VERB “TO BE” IN ENGLISH: INTRODUCE & MODEL EXAMPLES:
Introduce “to be” with a clear anchor chart or poster that breaks down the forms of “to be” by subject. It is also helpful for ELs to provide an example for each verb form with an accompanying visual.
Teachers can introduce the verb “to be” as full page anchor chart or half page for students to put in their own grammar notebooks.
2. GUIDED PRACTICE:
Students can practice the subject + verb form of “to be” using study guides like printable or digital flashcards, or a lift the-flap foldable. They can also practice these terms individually or with a partner.
One whole class activity could be having students generate a list of nouns and names on sticky notes. Then, students sort each sticky note under which form of “to be” the noun would take.
After students are able to recognize each verb form, they can move on to applying the subject + verb form in full sentences.
INDEPENDENT PRACTICE WITH “TO BE”:
There are so many ways to practice grammar skills in English, but the most important thing is repetition. This means applying a new grammar skill in multiple activities across the language domains (speaking, listening, reading and writing).
This can be done with simple matching activities, fill-ins, sorts, and sentence writing, like in the image below.
Then, students can apply this knowledge when reading the forms of “to be” in context. For example, students can practice finding “to be” by hunting for the present tense forms of the verb “to be” in a book or reading passage.
It can also be useful to have resources in both printable PDF and a digital, Google Slides version in order to meet the diverse learning needs of your ELs.
Once ELs are comfortable with the forms of “to be” in the present tense, they are ready to apply it in the negative form of “to be” as well as using it in a contraction.
After grasping the present forms of “to be”, the negative form is quite simple. It just requires adding “not” after the verb.
Also, students will commonly see and hear the verb “to be” in its contraction form. This is why it is important to expose them to it as well. You can have students practice the contractions in the same way they practiced the regular forms of “to be” above.
Looking for more ESL grammar resources? Then check out this blog post on What to Look for in ESL Grammar Activities!
All activities pictured above are in the Teaching the Verb “To Be” Newcomer and Beginner ESL Grammar Unit. It is also available with 19 other units in the ESL Grammar Bundle!