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How to Teach the Verb ¨To Be¨ to ESL Beginner Students

Verb To Be

Verb To Be

English verbs: Teaching the Verb To Be

The verb to be is one of the most used verbs in the English language. For ESL students, the verb to be is one of the most important verbs and also the first verb they should learn. By using the verb to be, ESL students can build structures related to their own personal information, for example, name, age, nationality, profession, etc., allowing them to communicate in the target language with ease.

I've been teaching English as a second language for over seven years. Throughout my career, I've taught English as a second language to beginners, intermediate and advanced students. Throughout this hub, I'm going to show you a few techniques that have proved effective at teaching English as a second language to beginner students.

Warm-up Activities with the Verb to be

Before introducing the verb to be, introduce yourself using the same structures you will present in the class, for example, say what your name is; where you live; your profession; where you work. This will make them feel at ease in the class.

Ask the students questions, such as what's your name? What's your profession? where do you work? Are you Spanish? Try to ask everyone in the class at least one question. Most students of English are false beginners and they should be able to answer these simple questions.

How to Introduce the Verb To Be in an ESL Class?

This activity is intended for beginner students of English

For the presentation of the verb to be, you should have a conversation written already on long strips of carboard, like the ones in the picture below. Stick the strips on the whiteboard using white tac.

You may also write the conversation on the whiteboard with a marker; however, I prefer to use strips, as they can be easily taken off the whiteboard and be reused at a later class

Speaker 1Speaker2 

Hello, my name's John. What's your name?

My name is Rose.


Are you French?

No, I'm Spanish.


How old are you?

I.m sixteen years old.


Are you a student?

No, I'm a teacher.


Where is your classroom.

It's right here.

Teaching the Verb To Be to ESL Students

Go over the conversation once, playing both parts of the conversation, then, tell the students to listen and repeat the conversation. You may have them listen and repeat for about three times, after which the students should have memorized the conversation.

Now, divide the class into two teams; remove some strips off the whiteboard and have them practice the conversation; team 1 plays the left side of the conversation and team 2 plays the right side of the conversation.

Remove more strips and switch the participation of the teams. team 1 plays the right side of the conversation and team 2 plays the left side of the conversation.
By the end of this activity, the students should have learned the structures practiced in the conversation.

You may choose to give them grammar explanation; however, I prefer to induce them to understand the grammar by asking questions, such as how many forms of the verb to be are there in the conversation? Is it the singular or the plural form of the verb to be?

Divide the class in pairs of students and have them ask and answer personal information, varying the structures practiced in the previous activity. You might have to give an example, such as are you American? No, I'm Mexican. Are you a student? Yes. I am.

Activities for the ESL Classroom

Before going to the next activity, you may arouse their imagination by telling them that they're going to find their perfect match.

For this activity, you should have several big posters of some people's profiles. Stick the profiles around the classroom, so that the students have the opportunity to relax and walk around the classroom.

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Tell them that they should find their match and take notes by reading through the profiles on the posters. Most structures are written using the verb to be and they should be able to understand them. Tell them that you will provide them with the translation of words or phrases they don't understand.

After they have finish taking notes, have them report to the class about their match like this:

He or she is from France, Mexico, U.S. etc.
He or she is a singer, doctor, etc.
He/she works at ...
He/she lives at ...

Perfect Match

Perfect Match

Perfect Match

You may inlcude other verbs, which the students should already know, since they are of common usage, in the practice stage.

Other activities may follow after the previous ones, such as a boardgame with some of the structures included in these activities. In an ESL class, the presentation, practice and production stages usually take from two to three hours.

Songs in the ESL Classroom

I usually include a song, which the students practice and memorize, at the end of the class. The practice and memorization of the song usually takes about thirty minutes. The object of an ESL class is to start a class learning-oriented and then, make it more fun and interactive with pair, group and individual participation.


Jose Juan Gutierrez (author) from Mexico City on September 19, 2015:

Thanks for stopping and taking the time to read this hub.

marita on July 20, 2015:

thanks for the great ideas to get students to usethe verb.

Jose Juan Gutierrez (author) from Mexico City on January 29, 2013:

Thanks for taking the time to read this hub.

carozy from San Francisco on January 28, 2013:

I am getting my TESOL certification and found this article helpful. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

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