The use of tense in sports commentaries

This activity looks at the use of tense in two descriptions of the same event: a football match. Students are asked to think about why different tenses used, and what kind of role they play in creating the meaning of the text.


  • Consolidate an understanding of the different tenses.
  • Analyse the use of tenses in real texts.
  • Create a text using different tenses.

Lesson Plan

This lesson might come after you have taught your students about the two tenses in English: past and present. You might want to revisit these notions before starting this lesson, by checking out some of the resources on Englicious (for example, here).

Begin by showing your students a short clip of a football match, here. Play them the first minute (without the sound on) and ask one student to provide a commentary, imagining that they are commenting 'live' on the match as it happens. 

Now ask students: what tense was the commentary in? Present or past? Did it remain in one tense throughout, or did it change?

Next, play your students the clip again, but this time with the volume turned up. You could also give them a transcript of the commentary, which can be found on the handout at the bottom of this screen. Ask the same questions about tense again. Their answers might include:

  • Most of the text is in the present tense, because the commentators are describing a scene that is happening at the moment of speaking. For example, Anfield is a bear pit of passion and noise; It comes back off the Liverpool crossbar.
  • At times, the text switches to past tense, to describe things that have happened a long time ago (what it must have been like when the gladiators strolled out in the colosseum all those years ago in Rome) and a short time ago in the match itself (there was a real mistake there by Karius). 
  • Use of the progressive tense (it's bouncing) to capture the fact that the action is ongoing and unfolding at the moment of speaking.

Next, ask students to image they are a journalist writing a report for the game. What tense will they need to write in? You could show them the first few paragraphs of a BBC article (here and on the handout), to help them get started.


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