Teaching the Verb to have to Beginning ESL Students

The verb “to have” is one that is remarkably easy to teach with a good lesson plan because a student is able to physically hold anything he or she has. This lesson plan’s minor details can be altered to fit the students’ vocabulary, but the main lesson should not be changed much. Following is a step-by-step description of how to set up and successfully teach the verb “to have.”

It seems counterintuitive, but it is not. The importance of starting with the verb “to be” is to clearly distinguish the difference between the two verbs. Write the conjugation of “to be” on the left side of the board (I am, You are, He is, etc.), with the conjugation of “to have” on the right side of the board. Say a few example sentences using the verb “to be.” Make sure the examples refer to information the students can see for themselves in the classroom (i.e. I am a teacher, He is Roberto, This is a red marker.)

Have the students say a sentence that is lifelike for each conjugation. For the first sentence, make sure that each student has a pencil (or alternatively, a pen). Write the sentence on the board, “I have a pencil” with the words “I have” underlined. Explain to the students that “a pencil” will not change, but the conjugation will change depending on the person or people holding the pencil.

Ask all of the students to hold their pencil in their hand and say the sentence with you. Hold up a pencil while all of the students say with you, “You have a pencil.” For “he” and “she,” have a male and female student individually come up to the front of the class and hold up a pencil. For “we,” sit with the students. For “they,” have two students come to the front of the class and hold up their pencils.

This can sometimes be confusing for students because they feel as though they must answer with “have” even with the answer should have “has.” Write both of these questions on the board and make sure the students see that sometimes the answer will include “have” and sometimes “has” even though the question will always only be “have.”

Use the above question before the students answer each time to reinforce this idea. If the class is large, it may be beneficial to modify the remainder of the lesson to work in groups or pairs. In this case, one student would ask the question and another would answer.

Ask each student to make a sentence in the first person which starts with “I have.” All of the students should have something on their desks, such as a notebook, pencil, pen, etc. They should make the sentence using one of these items. Make sure to reinforce a good sentence. If a student conjugates the verb correctly but does not say the rest of the sentence, it is not necessary to correct that part. If a student conjugates the verb incorrectly, however, this must be corrected.

For “you,” ask that the student say the name of another student in the class first. For example, “Dione, you have a pencil.” Ask that the other student (Dione) hold up the item (a pencil). For “he” and “she,” emphasize the importance of being careful with gender and create a sentence for the student to their left.

For “it,” put at least 10 items on a desk where all of the students can see. The items should be vocabulary the students have already covered, such as red marker, blue marker, notebook, pen, pencil, eraser, markers. Reinforce that the desk is “it.” Write the items on the board with their respective articles when necessary, i.e. “a red marker, markers, an eraser, a pen, a notebook.”

For each student’s turn, put an item in the middle of a desk. For example, there would be a red marker on the desk, and the student would say, “It has a red marker.”

For “we,” the students should share something with the student next to them and make a sentence about that item. “We have an eraser” while both holding an eraser. For “they,” two students should go to the front of the class and alternate items they hold together.

In order to complete this lesson, it is ideal to finish with a reading and writing exercise. I have a simple worksheet I made which has a husband and wife with their two daughters and two sons. There are eight questions about what the family members have; for example, “Do Sue and Bob have children?” It is important that the students answer in complete sentences.

The final section on the worksheet directs that the student write a few sentences about their family, such as “I have two sisters.”

The above activities could be continued in another lesson by adding “don’t” or altering the information for “want” or “need.” If the class time is short, the writing activities could be a review for the next lesson.