Working on English Tenses: A Train Station

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Pedagogical objectives

Oral expression

Linguistic objectives

Tenses and in particular the Present Perfect vs Present Perfect and the Continuous Past vs Simple Past contrasts.

Time words: still; for; ago; since.


Elementary/Lower Intermediate



Cuisenaire rods or similar


1 to 6 hours depending on the students’ readiness to make proposals and explore all the possibilities

General procedure

Only the teacher moves the rods. The teacher says nothing other than the phrases shown in green. The teacher does not model the sentences in blue – they are only produced by the students – not  usually correctly the first time, of course.

In this deductive approach, the students work out for themselves how to express their thoughts and feelings about a situation whose meaning is visible to them. The teacher’s role is to guide them to see what is considered significant in English and to formulate it accurately – the tense distinctions that are natural in English in this situation may not be made in the students’ native language(s). Because the meaning of the evolving situation is directly available, teacher explanations are redundant.

1) The initial situation

On a table in view of the students, the teacher puts rods on the table to represent a clock set to 6:50 and some others to represent a train station. Two blue rods represent the two platforms, some red rods upright on one of the blue rods represent the people waiting for a train. I haven’t included a clock because it’s easy to imagine.


The teacher moves an orange rod (high speed trains are orange in France) very slowly towards the station and says: Choo, choo, choo! (anachronistic, but it always works).

Here, and in all that follows, only correct and appropriate responses are given. Most of the learning takes place, however, when incorrect or inappropriate proposals are made by the students and the teacher guides them to working out the right forms for themselves. How exactly the teacher does this is described elsewhere on this site.

Some of the possible student responses:

  • It’s a train.
  • It’s a station.
  • The train’s going to the station.
  • The train’s going to arrive in the station soon.
  • There are (five) people/passengers waiting for the train.
  • They’re going to work.

2) The teacher gestures to the train and to the seven o’clock position on the clock without actually moving the rods.

Some of the possible student responses:

  • The train’s going to arrive at seven (o’clock).
  • The train’s going to arrive in five minutes.
  • The train’ll arrive at 7:00.
  • The train arrives at 7:00.
  • I think the train’ll arrive at 7:00. 

The students may want to discuss and experiment with the nuances in meaning between these different forms.

3. The teacher takes a pink rod, places it upright and makes it “run” at a certain distance from the station.

The teacher says: Jack.

This is what it looks like:

train station 1

  • Jack’s running for the train.
  • Jack wants to catch/take the train.
  • He’s late.

4. The teacher moves the clock to show 6:55 and moves the rods representing the train and Jack a little bit closer to the station.

The teacher says nothing.

  • Jack’s late.
  • He’s going to miss the train.
  • The train’s almost arrived.
  • The train’ll arrive before Jack.

5. The teacher moves the clock forward again and the train and Jack, too.

The number of stops between 6:55 and seven o’clock will depend on the students’ level; on how much practice they need to produce the kind of sentences in the previous step quickly and fluently; and on how inventive they are.

6. The teacher moves the clock forward to seven o’clock; puts the train in the station but Jack still some distance from the station.

This often results in one of the students saying: The train is arriving in the station.

The teacher moves the clock and the train and Jack back in time and demonstrates in exactly what situation this sentence is possible – when a long train is moving slowly into the station.

If is is not enough, the teacher can create a virtual school in the classroom – chalk marks or rods on the floor and say: This is a school. Christine, come here. Walk slowly to school.

The other students describe the situation:

  • Christine’s walking/going to school.
  • She’s going to arrive in a few minutes.
  • She hasn’t arrived yet.
  • She’s just outside the school.
  • She’s inside the school.
  • She’s arrived.

So that they see that in many situations there’s no time to say: X is arriving.

7. Some of the possible student responses to the seven o’clock situation:

  • The train’s (just) arrived.
  • Jack hasn’t arrived yet.
  • Jack’s still running for the train.
  • He may be in time.
  • I think he’ll miss the train.
  • The passengers are going to get on the train.

8. The teacher gestures to the 7:05 position and mimes the train leaving the station without actually moving the rods.

  • The train’s going to leave in five minutes.
  • The train leaves at seven five.

9. The teacher moves the clock to 7:01.

Some of the passengers are placed so that they are half on the platform and half in the train; Jack is moved forward but not into the station.

  • The passengers are getting on the train.
  • Poor Jack’s still running for the train.

10. The teacher moves the clock to 7:04.

The passengers are moved completely onto the train.

  • The train’s going to leave in one minute.
  • It’s almost time for the train to leave.
  • All the passengers have got on the train.
  • Jack still hasn’t arrived.
  • He hasn’t arrived yet.

11. The teacher moves the clock to 7:05 and the train to just outside the station. Jack is moved onto the platform.

  • The train’s just left.
  • Jack’s arrived.
  • The train’s already left.
  • He’s missed the train.
  • He’ll have to go back home.
  • He can wait for another train.

12. Ticket clerk conversation

If the students don’t spontaneously come up with this last possibility, the teacher can quickly add rods to enlarge the station and says; a waiting room, a ticket office and a ticket clerk.

The teacher moves Jack to stand facing the ticket clerk. If necessary, he gestures to indicate Jack and the ticket clerk are talking so students create a possible conversation:

  • Good morning. When’s the next train to London?
  • At 8 o’clock.
  • A ticket, please.
  • First or second class.
  • Second class. No smoker.
  • Single or return?
  • Return.
  • That’ll be £50.
  • Here you are.
  • Thank you.

During the conversation, the teacher moves the clock gradually forward to ten past seven.

13. Work in groups

At this point, if the class is large, to give everyone the opportunity to speak, the teacher can organise the students into groups of about four, give each group the necessary rods to recreate the situation and have them play it over from the beginning. The teacher moves round the class listening and, if necessary, spending time with weaker students. After this period, the teacher deals with any problems that have come up with the whole class.

14. The clock is now at 7:15 and Jack is in the waiting room; no longer at the ticket office.

  • He’s waiting for the next train.
  • .He’s reading a newspaper.
  • He’s having a coffee.
  • How long has he been waiting?

The answer to this depends on how the students see the situation: sometimes they see the waiting time starting at 7:05, sometimes at 7:10. The question may not come up spontaneously at all. The teacher can gesture to the appropriate area on the clock to solicit it.

Assuming the students have already learnt sentences such as “How long is the rod?” the teacher may introduce the new words (been, for) by saying them, by writing them on the board, or by pointing to them on the Silent Way word charts).

  • He’s been waiting for 10 minutes.
  • He’s been waiting since five past seven.
  • How long is he going to wait?

The teacher may also need to solicit this by gesturing to the area on the clock between 7:15 and 8:00.

  • For 45 minutes.
  • For three quarters of an hour.
  • Until eight o’clock.

15. The teacher gestures to the train, now some distance from the station.

  • The train’s going to London.
  • It’s on its way to London.
  • The train left the station five/a few minutes ago.

16. The teacher moves the clock to 7:20 and the train a little further from the station.

  • Jack’s been waiting for 15 minutes.
  • He’s still reading his paper.
  • He’s been reading his paper for 10 minutes.
  • He’s still got 40 minutes to wait for his train.
  • The train’s further away, now.

17. The teacher moves the clock to 7:25, and so on.

Whether or not stops are made for the students to speak at each of the five-minute intervals until 8:00 will depend on the level of the students and how much they need to practice the different structures. If this is the first time they have encountered the Present Perfect Progressive, a lot of stops will be necessary. If they are already more or less familiar with it, fewer are stops are necessary and students can use their imagination to create other incidents:

  • meeting and talking to other passengers,
  • muggings,
  • train accidents,
  • Jack’s wife turning up with a lover,

In this short video you can see the train station situation on the wall behind me – on the left. There were 60 people in the room so it wouldn’t have been clearly visible on a table.

I’m afraid the sound quality is not very good. The student is working on saying: The train’s about to enter the station.

© Glenys Hanson, 2015. Originally published in a different version on the Une Education Pour Demain website in 2001.

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“Working on English Tenses: The Train Station Situation” by Glenys Hanson”is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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