When the ESL teacher came back from her recent surgery, as a substitute for her classes, she insisted that I move on from vocabulary tests to English grammar. This was the first time teaching English language acquisition as a second language to high school students. As a substitute, I would help fifth grade remember which words were hyphenated, like one-way or baby-sit. In high school, I assigned vocabulary words and definitions to ESL students. Grammar is tough for anyone in any language. I can still recall learning Spanish grammar in Spanish 4 Honors. It was not as easy as I imagined, but it is definitely something to consider.
Present Perfect Continuous. Well, what is that? Does an average Native English speaker understand this concept in English grammar? Probably not. We simply utilize a language without understanding what exactly goes on in everything we do when we use it. Well, present means now. So, what makes the present perfect? I have had a few rough days in the past, but I cannot recall that the present is completely perfect. There are still a few rough potholes in the road. What about the next word? Continuous. That must mean it is still happening, like progressive or uninterrupted. So, something that is happening perfectly without taking a break? Ah, commitment.
When I explained to the students that present perfect continuous is an event or activity that started in the past and has continued up until now, they were hesitant on what to understand first. So, I gave them examples about living in Connecticut.
I have been living in Connecticut for my entire life.
They started to understand the concept, but they needed just one more solid connection. Ah, relationships! I decided to apply social norms to their English language acquisition. I randomly used one of my students as an example:
“Ok, so let’s say [name goes here] has two really cute guys interested in her. They both text her something very similar to each other, but one of them uses present perfect continuous.”
I wrote on the white board to show the examples of each message that the guys sent:
I thought about you.
Well, okay? Are they good thoughts? What were you even thinking about that made me the subject of interest? Is this a phase you are going through or is there something significant behind these thoughts? Did this just happen recently? Well, clearly, it has because of the context and choice of words used in expressing these sudden feelings.
I have been thinking about you.
I asked the class what the difference was between the two sentences, and which guy should the girl reconsider for a date. This sparked a lot of interest. Why? Well, we all use a language to communicate our feelings, whether it is verbal or non-verbal, but this is personal. This is about making decisions that could possibly make or break a heart. So to them, it matters what happens next. The class thought about the idea, applied it to their own life, learned more about the situation, and engaged with the overall idea with each other.
I believe one student said something like,
“Well, one guy thought about me, but the other has been thinking about me for a long time.”
I was proud of their discovery, and explained to them the significance of commitment behind present perfect continuous:
“Exactly! This guy could have just thought about you yesterday. The other guy has been thinking about you for a while. If a guy texts you, maybe he was bored just because he thought about you for that moment. The other guy has been anticipating to text you to see how you were doing. Present perfect continuous is all about commitment. They have been doing this for a while.”
After grading the tests distributed that following Friday, I was extremely pleased with the results. In addition, the majority of them correctly answered the bonus question of defining and providing an example of present perfect continuous.