Teaching time vocabulary and expressions but want some practical and engaging ideas for this theme? Adult ESL teachers are accustomed to teaching time expressions in grammar classes and even in some speaking classes, but time is an essential element of everyday communication. Expressing and understanding it is crucial for making plans and appointments, which is where we tend to focus on it. However, as a concept, it is rich for discussions with advanced students.
But before I start daydreaming about the past or planning for the future, I want to share with you a variety of activities and ideas that you can use now when teaching time to beginner, intermediate, and advanced students. From role-playing scenarios to interactive games, there are plenty of ways to make teaching time fun and enjoyable. By the end of this article, you’ll have lots of ideas to help your students become masters of time expression and ready to tackle the clock and calendar with confidence.
The Art of Teaching Time: Listening and Speaking Activities for Adult ESL Students
Whether you’re working with beginner, intermediate, or advanced students, there’s an activity here for everyone. So grab your clocks and calendars, and let’s start mastering the art (or science?) of time!
Activities for Teaching Time Vocabulary & Expressions to Beginners
Obviously, we’re not going to have philosophical discussions about time with our beginners. Teaching time vocabulary is the best place to start. Introducing basic time vocabulary, such as morning, afternoon, and night. Have students practice saying and listening to these words in isolation and then incorporate them into short sentences like “It is morning now.”.
You can also use visual aids, such as a clock or calendar, to help students understand the concepts of time. Try creating flashcards with pictures of the different times of day, like sunrise for the morning and sunset for the evening. Then have students practice matching the correct time of day with the corresponding picture.
Teaching time expressions with listening and repetition:
This simple and straightforward activity helps beginner-level students practice their listening and pronunciation skills with time expressions.
- a recording of time expressions spoken by a native speaker, such as, “It is half past seven.” and “I will meet you at 8:00 pm.”. Recordings of more than one native speaker are best, if possible. Even better, try for speakers with different regional accents and varying ages.
- a handout of the time expressions (optional)
- Play the recording of the time expressions for the students.
- Have the students listen carefully and repeat each time expression after the native speaker.
- If you have a handout of the time expressions, you can have the students follow along as they listen and repeat. This can help them better understand the pronunciation and intonation of the time expressions.
- After the students have had a chance to listen and repeat the time expressions, you can have them practice using them in sentences. For example, you can have them describe their daily routines or plan for the future using time expressions.
- Encourage the students to listen to the recording a few more times and practice their pronunciation and intonation.
This activity is a good way for beginner-level students to practice their listening and pronunciation skills with time expressions and become more familiar with them in context. You can adjust the difficulty of the activity by using more advanced time expressions for intermediate or advanced-level students.
Activities for Teaching Time Vocabulary & Expressions to Intermediate Students
Time expression role-playing:
One of my favorite ways for teaching time expressions is to have students use role plays. Role plays are great for helping intermediate-level students practice using time expressions in context and develop their speaking skills.
You’ll want to have a list of possible role-play scenarios to help your students get started. Here are some you can include on your list:
- Someone planning a date makes a phone call to make a reservation at a restaurant.
- someone has a conversation with a friend about making plans for the future.
- A parent or ill/injured person calls a doctor’s office to make an appointment for a specific time.
- A friend has a conversation with their best friend about planning to go to a movie at a specific time and place.
- A traveler calls a hotel to book a room for a specific date and time.
- An employee has a conversation with a co-worker about meeting at a specific time and place to discuss a project.
- A traveler calls a rental car company to make a reservation for a specific time and date.
- A student has a conversation with a classmate about meeting at a specific time and place to study for a test.
To get started, give your students your list of role-playing scenarios involving time expressions. Encourage students to choose a scenario that interests them and use their creativity to develop their own dialogue and actions. You might want to provide the option of altering a scenario to make it more relevant to them. Then, have students role-play their scenarios in pairs or small groups. Encourage them to use time expressions appropriately in their conversations.
As an extension, you can have students listen to recordings of news or talk show segments and have them identify and discuss the various time expressions used in the context of the discussion. This is a good way for students to practice their listening skills and become more familiar with time expressions in context. You can have students work in pairs or small groups to discuss the time expressions they hear and to share their observations with the class.
Activities for Teaching Time Vocabulary & Expressions to Advanced Students
Time-themed discussion cards make a great speaking activity for intermediate or advanced-level students to practice using time expressions and vocabulary in conversation and to develop their critical thinking and communication skills.
You’ll want to have some time-themed discussion cards with prompts or questions related to time. If you don’t have the time hehehe or inclination to create your own, take a look at this ready-made set: TIME themed discussion questions for Advanced Adult ESL.
After you have created or purchased a set, print out the discussion cards and divide the students into small groups. Give each group a set of discussion cards and encourage them to use time expressions and tenses appropriately as they discuss the prompts on the cards. You can also include advanced vocabulary related to time on the cards to challenge the students and help them expand their vocabulary. Encourage the students to listen to and respond to each other’s ideas, using time vocabulary, expressions, and tenses appropriately.
As an extension for this teaching time activity, you can have the students present their group’s discussion to the class, using time expressions and tenses appropriately in their presentation to practice their speaking skills. You can also have the students write a summary of their group’s discussion and include time expressions and tenses appropriately in their summary to practice their writing skills.
Reading and Writing Activities for Teaching Time Vocabulary & Expressions
Reading and writing activities are not always as fun and engaging as speaking and listening ones, but don’t leave them out if you’re teaching time vocabulary and expressions. Whether you have beginners or advanced students (or the ones in between), there are activities that will suit their proficiency level. Here are some you can try:
BEGINNERS: Time-themed matching game for teaching time vocabulary & expressions
For beginner-level students, try a time-themed matching game to introduce basic time vocabulary words such as morning, afternoon, and night. To make the activity more interactive, create flashcards with a time vocabulary word or expression on one card and a corresponding picture on another card. Students can work in pairs or small groups to match the flashcards. Or, if your students are up for more of a reading challenge, use gap sentences instead of pictures so that students are match the vocabulary or expression to the sentence.
You can also create a larger version of the game by printing out the time vocabulary words and pictures (or sentences) and placing them on the walls or on a table. Have students walk around the room or table and match the words with the pictures.
INTERMEDIATE: time expression reading & writing for teaching time vocabulary & expressions
Intermediate-level adult ESL students can practice using time expressions in context through reading and writing activities. Give students a text that includes time expressions and have them read it carefully. Encourage them to pay attention to the time expressions and to try to understand their meaning and use in context. Have the students write a summary of the text, including time expressions as appropriate. This is a good way for students to practice their writing skills and demonstrate their understanding of the text.
Then, give them a similar text but with gaps in place of the time vocabulary words and expressions so that they can fill in the gaps appropriately.
As an extension, you can have students write out a daily routine, including specific times, to practice using time expressions in context. Encourage students to use time expressions appropriately and to be as detailed as possible in their routines. Consider having students write a letter to a friend or family member, including time expressions as they recount a past event or make plans for the future. Or, put them in pairs to write out a text conversation where they ask about and tell about their day, again using time words.
ADVANCED: time expression analysis & writing for teaching time vocabulary & expressions
For advanced-level students, try this activity to enhance their skills in using time expressions and tenses in context while also boosting their reading and writing abilities.
Give students a text that includes time expressions and multiple time frames, and have them read it carefully. Encourage them to pay attention to the time expressions and tenses and to try to understand their meaning and use in context. Have the students write a summary or analysis of the text, including time expressions and tenses as appropriate.
As an extension, you can have students create their own original stories or essays using time expressions and tenses appropriately.
Grammar Time: Ideas for Teaching Time in Grammar Lessons
Time is relative, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have grammar rules it needs to abide by. Teaching time vocabulary and expressions ties in with grammar–just think of how time is expressed with verb tenses! So, let’s go over how grammar and time can be combined to help students improve their understanding of English tenses and time expressions and practice using them in context.
BEGINNER: grammar activity for teaching time vocabulary & expressions
For beginner-level students, put their present simple tense and time vocabulary skills to the test with this activity. Set them up for success by first reviewing the simple present tense and how it is used to describe daily routines and habits. Give examples of sentences using the simple present tense and time vocabulary. Examples: I wake up at 7:00 am every day. and I eat breakfast at 8:00 am every day. Create a list of common present simple verbs and time vocabulary words for students to choose from. You can also have students suggest additional words to add to the list.
Have students work in pairs or small groups and take turns describing their daily routine using only simple present verbs and time vocabulary. Encourage them to be as descriptive as possible and to use a variety of simple present verbs and time vocabulary words. The other students in the group have to record all the time words they hear.
To make this activity more challenging, you can set a word minimum that students must reach (like two simple present verbs and four time-related words/expressions). You can also have students act out each other’s daily routines as they are being described.
This activity is a fun and interactive way for beginner-level students to practice using the simple present tense and time vocabulary in context. You can adjust the difficulty of the activity by requiring more challenging verbs and vocabulary or by increasing the word minimum.
INTERMEDIATE: grammar activity for teaching time vocabulary & expressions
For intermediate-level students, try this activity that combines practice with tenses and time expressions with a little bit of competition. Begin by reviewing the different ways to express time in English, such as using tenses like present progressive, simple past, and simple future, and time expressions like yesterday, tomorrow, and next week.
Next, create a set of flashcards or a word wall with time-themed vocabulary words and phrases, such as alarm , schedule, deadline, and appointment. Create another set of cards with a verb tense listed on each card. Divide students into pairs or small groups, and give each group a set of flashcards. Have students draw a tense card and a time card and use them to create a sentence in the appropriate tense and with the given time-themed vocabulary word or phrase.
For example, if a student draws the cards appointment and simple present, they might say, I have an appointment with the dentist at 2:00 pm today. As students create their sentences, have the rest of the group listen and provide feedback on the use of tense and time expressions. You can also have students correct errors or provide alternative sentences.
To make the activity more interactive and engaging, you could create a game or competition where students earn points for correctly using tenses and time expressions in their sentences. Offer bonus points for additional time-related words and expressions not dictated by the drawn cards.
ADVANCED: grammar activity for teaching time vocabulary & expressions
When teaching time-related vocabulary and phrases to advanced-level students, try this activity that allows them to practice using tenses and time expressions in a variety of contexts. Begin by reviewing the different ways to express time in English, such as using tenses like present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect, and time expressions like since, for, and already.
Next, provide students with various texts that include time expressions and multiple time frames, such as news articles, stories, essays, or scripts from excerpts of movies/videos. Have students read the texts carefully and identify all the time-related words/expressions. Then ask them to pay attention to the use of the tenses and time expressions. Encourage them to try to understand the meaning and use of these elements in context.
Finally, have students write a summary of the text, including time expressions and tenses as appropriate. This is a good way for students to practice their writing skills and demonstrate their understanding of the text as well as use time-related terminology. As an extension, you could have students write their own stories or essays that include time expressions and multiple time frames. Encourage them to be as descriptive as possible and use various tenses and time expressions appropriately.
Timely Ideas for Teaching Time Vocabulary to Adult ESL Students
It’s time to get your students on track with their time vocabulary skills. From basic terms like morning and afternoon to more advanced expressions like a quarter past and half past, these activities have something for every level of learner. Time’s a-ticking; let’s get started teaching time vocabulary with activities.
BEGINNER: Timing is Everything–Match Game
Time may be fleeting, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it! In this activity, your students will review some basic time vocabulary, including words like morning, afternoon, and night, as well as phrases like on time and early bird. And don’t worry, no one will just be staring at a clock all day – these interactive and engaging activities will help students practice using this vocabulary in context. Let’s get started!
Begin by reviewing basic time vocabulary with beginner-level adult ESL students. This could include words like morning, afternoon, and night, as well as numbers and phrases like 11:00 pm and half past six. You could use flashcards, a word wall, or a quiz show-style competition to review the vocabulary.
Next, introduce common phrases that include time vocabulary, such as
- in advance – before a specific time or event
- last minute – at the very last moment or close to the deadline
- on schedule – following a planned schedule or timeline
- ahead of time – before a specific time or deadline
- behind schedule – not following a planned schedule or timeline
- on time – arriving at the designated time or earlier
- running late – arriving later than the designated time
- early bird – someone who wakes up or arrives early
- beat the clock – to finish something before a deadline
- in no time – very quickly
Encourage students to use these phrases in their own sentences to demonstrate their understanding. You could also introduce related vocabulary, such as
- clock – a device that measures and displays time
- schedule – a plan for the order in which things will be done
- deadline – a time by which something must be finished or completed
- duration – the amount of time that something lasts
To make the activity more interactive and engaging, you could create a matching game where students have to match the time vocabulary word with the corresponding definition or example sentence. For example, students might have to match morning with the definition the part of the day between midnight and noon or with the sentence I usually wake up at 7:00 am.
As an extension activity, you could have students create their own flashcards or word wall with additional time-themed vocabulary.
INTERMEDIATE: Time Expressions Game
Read, set, go! This is a surefire way to get students talking and practicing using time expressions in context.
You’ll need a deck of cards with time expressions written on them (half past seven, at midnight, this morning, etc.) and a stopwatch or timer.
To get set up, divide the class into teams of 3-4 students. Shuffle the deck of cards and place them face down in a stack. Have each team choose a player to go first.
The first player from each team draws a card and has to read the time expression out loud. The player then has to use the time expression in a sentence, incorporating it into a short story or conversation. For example, if the time expression is half past seven, the player might say, I woke up at half past seven this morning and had breakfast before getting ready for work.
The other players in the team have to listen carefully and check for accuracy. If the player uses the time expression correctly, they get a point for their team. If they make a mistake, they have to return the card to the bottom of the deck, and the next player goes.
Each player has 1 minute to use the time expression in a sentence. If they cannot, the card is returned to the bottom of the deck, and the next player goes. Play continues until all the cards have been used. The team with the most points wins.
- If a student has difficulty using the time expression in a sentence, you can offer prompts or examples to help them get started.
- Encourage students to use a variety of time expressions and tenses in their sentences to challenge themselves. Consider writing time expressions on the board as you hear students use them and using tic marks to keep track of how often they are used. Disallow any past a certain number to ensure they stretch instead of using the same ones over and over. For example, only allow the expression in the morning three times (or more or fewer).
- You can adjust the game’s difficulty by using more advanced time expressions or increasing the time limit for each turn.
This activity is a fun and interactive way for intermediate-level students to practice using time expressions in context. It allows students to use their creativity and imagination to come up with sentences and stories, and it encourages them to pay attention to the use of tenses and time expressions. The game format adds an element of competition and keeps students engaged, and the use of a timer adds a sense of urgency and helps students to focus.
ADVANCED: Timely Idioms
For an advanced-level activity, you can review idiomatic expressions that include time vocabulary, such as time flies, waste time, and kill time. Have students practice using these expressions in context and create their own sentences using them.
To make this activity more engaging, you can have students create a game where they have to use idiomatic expressions related to time in different scenarios. For example, you can create a list of scenarios that involve time, such as running late for a meeting, waiting for a friend, and planning a vacation. Here are some more examples:
- Time is money. – time is valuable and should be used wisely
- Time heals all wounds. – with the passage of time, problems and difficulties can be resolved or overcome
- Time and tide wait for no man. – time passes regardless of what a person is doing, and it is important to make use of the time available
- Time flies when you’re having fun. – time seems to pass quickly when a person is enjoying themselves
- Time is on your side. – a person has enough time to accomplish something
- Time is of the essence. – time is a critical factor in a situation, and it is important to act quickly
- Time will tell. – it is not possible to know the outcome of something until it happens
- Time is running out. – there is little time left to do something
- Time out. – a person needs a break or a pause in something
Have students choose a scenario and use all their acting abilities to bring idiomatic expressions related to time to life. Encourage them to get creative with their dialogue and actions.
This activity is a surefire way for students to have a blast while practicing their speaking and writing skills using time-related idioms in context.
Time flies when you’re having fun teaching time to your adult ESL students! Whether you’re working with beginners, intermediates, or advanced students, there are plenty of creative and engaging ideas and activities that you can use to help your students improve their listening, speaking, reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary skills. By using activities when teaching time vocabulary and expressions, you can help your students become more proficient in English and better understand the concept of time in their daily lives. So don’t waste any more time – get out there and make teaching time a blast!