Students learn more quickly when they can visualize a concept…
The simple future can be tricky for English students to learn because there are so many ways to express the future in English. Unlike the simple past, which has one basic form, the simple future can be expressed by using will + base verb, be going to + base verb, or be + -ing verb. See Simple Future: Teaching the Three Forms for complete explanations, practice lessons, and fun activities to do with your students. Even though it’s a bit tricky, all three uses are common, so students quickly become familiar with the simple future as they learn English.
But what about the future progressive (also known as the future continuous)? This structure is not commonly used in English, so students don’t come across it very often. However, higher-level textbooks deal with this form, as do tests like the TOEIC. It is also used occasionally in English writing and speaking, so high-intermediate and advanced students need to learn it at some point. Although it is rarely used and thus harder to grasp, presenting the future progressive using the method outlined below will make it easier for your students. Section 6, Tricks, could be especially helpful!
See detailed explanations of the three future forms, examples, practice lessons, and fun activities in my blog post Simple Future: Teaching the Three Forms.
1. Form: WILL + BE + -ING VERB
The future progressive is formed by taking the modal will, the base form of the verb BE, and an action verb + -ING. Luckily, students don’t have to worry about subject-verb agreement: BE doesn’t change forms after a modal.
What about the other two future forms? We can never use be + -ing verb instead of will (She is being eating dinner is clearly incorrect), but it is possible to use be going to instead of will (She is going to be eating dinner). Most people would agree that it’s a bit of a mouthful—sticking to will is best (She will be eating dinner).
The function of the future progressive is to show a continuing (long) action getting interrupted by a short future action. Using the words long and short helps students understand this use better. The reason the future progressive isn’t used that often is because it’s a little strange to try to predict what will happen exactly at a given moment in the future. Unlike the past, where we know what happened already, we don’t usually know for certain what will happen in the future.
3. Time Marker:
The time marker when is common for this case.
- I will be sleeping when you arrive home from work next Friday night.
- They will be doing presentations in class when the practice fire alarm rings at 2 p.m.
- The mayor will be finishing up her work when the power goes out at the scheduled time tomorrow.
5. Important Reminders:
A. Don’t forget to remind students that you can start the sentences with either the independent clause (a Subject-Verb[-Object] structure that can stand alone) OR the dependent clause (that begins with the adverb “when” and can’t stand alone) with no difference in meaning. Students shouldn’t memorize the future progressive as always occurring first in the sentence, because this isn’t always the case. Also, remind students that a comma must be used when a dependent clause begins a sentence.
- When you arrive home from work next Friday night, I will be sleeping.
- When the practice fire alarm rings at 2 p.m., they will be doing presentations in class.
- When the power goes out at the scheduled time tomorrow, the mayor will be finishing up her work.
B. Always include some examples with a third person singular subject so that students realize that the regular simple present subject-verb agreement rules must be followed for the verb in the dependent clause. (I.e., the third person singular pronouns he/she/it, singular count nouns, and non-count nouns all take -s on the end of the verb.)
C. It’s also possible to use the future progressive when a clock time is mentioned instead of a dependent clause.
- What will you be doing at 8 p.m. tonight? (The meaning is: What will you be doing when it is 8 p.m. tonight?)
- I will be studying at 8 p.m. tonight. (The meaning is: I will be studying when it is 8 p.m. tonight.)
A. Use the expression “NO 2 WILLS” to remind students that they will never see two future forms used in the same sentence (if it contains one independent and one dependent clause). (Click to tweet this tip!) Chant it like a mantra in your class—it really sticks in students’ heads and helps them remember to always use a future form in the independent clause and a present form in the dependent clause. Remind students that even though the verb in the dependent clause has a simple present structure, both clauses have a future meaning. Point to the diagram at the beginning of this blog post as an example. This is true for all future tenses!
B. Have students memorize common “short” action verbs so they’ll easily recognize when the future progressive is needed. Short action verbs include: start, begin, call, arrive, ring, come, land, hit, and go out (as in the power goes out or the lights go out).
C. If students have learned the past progressive before (and they do usually learn the past progressive before the future progressive since it’s more common), remind them that the future progressive has the same function as the past progressive. For more information or as a comparison, see Simple Past Vs. Past Progressive.
7. Practice Lessons:
Get some simple future practice with our Future lesson (Grammar Practice Worksheets), our Future (going to) lesson (Grammar Stories), and our Future – What are you going to do? and Future – Where are you going to go? lessons (Simple Sentences).
How will your students be feeling when they finally understand the future progressive? Pretty darn good, I’m guessing!