Lesson idea: using sports commentaries in class

Have you ever heard of the ‘instantaneous present simple’? I hadn’t until a recent diploma module. Apparently it’s used to describe events or occurrences with some level of immediacy. You find it in newspaper headlines (like ‘Brad marries Angelina’), verbs of communication (‘your mother tells me that…’), and references to the future (‘the bus leaves at 6’). I didn’t really get what it was to be honest, until I considered the example of sports commentaries:

‘Rooney… plays it to Van Persie, who spreads the ball out wide to Falcao, who trips over it’.

The commentator is mentioning actions that have already occurred, but he is using the present tense to add immediacy. An even clearer example is from story telling – we sometimes keep stories in the present tense to keep listeners engaged:

‘So I’m sitting in Starbucks, right, and this guy comes up to me, and he says ‘do you come here often?’ He plonks his skinny latte down on the table and starts chatting me up, I am thinking, is this guy for real….’

Similarly with jokes:

‘Two peanuts walk into a bar. One’s assaulted’

Teaching this instantaneous use of the present simple is a good way for students to practise structures that already know, and show them how versatile these can be. Here’s an idea for introducing this topic to the students and letting them have fun with it:

 Level: pre-intermediate


Play this video. Allow students to only listen, not watch. Can they guess which sport it is?

It’s rugby, and it’s the greatest moment in recent history (2003) for the English rugby team.

Introducing the target structure:

Here is the short transcript for the video…

There’s 35 second to go, this is the one. It’s coming back for Johnny Wilkinson. He drops for World Cup glory. It’s up, it’s over, he’s done it. Johnny Wilkinson is England’s hero yet again, and there’s not time for Australia to come back. England have just won the World Cup.

It comes to Mike Catt, he kicks it high into the stand. The whistle goes. It is all over, and England are the 2003 World Champions

Do a dictogloss activity where the students are required to listen to the text numerous times and reconstruct it. Something like this…

First Listen: Tell students to listen to the commentary again and make some general notes to help them remember the commentary. Compare with partner

Second Listen: Tell students to right down any verbs they hear in the commentary. List them on their page. Compare with partner

Third Listen: Tell students to right down any nouns/pronouns they hear in the commentary. Compare with partner

Tell the students now to try and reconstruct the text. They work with their partner.

Give students one more listen to check what they have constructed and make final alterations.

Give them the text, they can see how close they were. Open class feedback, discuss any difficult sections, turn of phrase, etc.

At the end, students can see the video! A great moment for England and Johnny Wilkinson!

Students look at the completed text

Q: What is the main tense used in the text. Circle examples of this tense.

Q: why do you think this tense is used?

Explain that the present continuous is used for actions happening now, but in sports commentaries we often use the present simple – it’s for speed and it makes things feel immediate, like they are happening now.

Controlled practice:

Introduce this amazing moment in football history to the students…

Give the students the activity below. These actions appear in the video in any order. Students watch the video, and complete each sentence with the correct verb in the correct form (all present simple):

TALK              HIT                  HEAD             BE

ENTER           BOUNCE     SHOOT      CROSS

  1. a) Number 10 ____________
  2. b) The ball ________ the bar
  3. c) A German player __________ the ball
  4. d) Number 7 ___________ the ball
  5. e) The referee _________ to the linesman
  6. f) The ball ________ the penalty box
  7. g) The ball _______ on the right-wing
  8. h) The ball __________ on the goal line (?)

Answers: a) shoots  b) hits  c) heads  d) crosses  e) talks  f) enters  g) is  h) bounces

Ordering task:

Students try and order these sentences from memory. Then they watch the video again to check their answers

Correct order = g) d), f), a), b), h), c), e)

Now the students have the correct order, they can have some fun with the sentences – they can try and commentate on the action themselves! Can they do it quickly enough?

(note: you might need to remind the students that they can replace ‘the ball’ with ‘it’ after it’s been mentioned. Also, Number 7 is Alan Ball, Number 10 is… do I really need to tell you?!)

Freer practice:

Students now make their own commentary on a sporting event. Either a choice from themselves or one chosen by the teacher, depends on how much freedom you want to give them. If you want a recommendation, how about this:

They can name the players themselves and be creative. Remember to encourage students to use the style of presentation in commentary – eg. Excited!


It pains me to say this, but this commentary from the 1999 Champions League final could be a very interesting lead in to some other grammar structures:

The first goal (Teddy Sheringham) has some great examples of the instantaneous present simple:

‘Beckham crosses, Schmeichel jumps, Giggs shoots, Sheringham equalises’ etc.

Then there are some uses of present perfect for actions just happened (‘Sheringham has equalised’, ‘Solskjaer has won the European Cup for Man Utd’)

Let me know how if you’ve any ideas to develop this extension activity.

One more thing. If you want to review a bit of football vocabulary during the lesson, I posted a link to a vocabulary review sheet in a previous post.


Feature image copyright rte.ie

Categories: grammar, Lesson Ideas, videos

Tags: , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Hi Peter – what a great set of resources and videos! Football commentaries really are a rich source of how the pres simple form is used in live narratives which learners might well find odd when encountering them.
    It is also referred to as the ‘historic present’ as it is frequently used in historical commentaries to make them sound dynamic with a sense of realism. As David Shariatmadari says in the Guardian, ‘I think it’s a perfectly natural way of thinking about the past. After all, when we remember something, we experience it as though we’re spooling it back in our heads, in real time. It is a re-run of the present. We dive into the recollection, and live it out again.’ http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/28/historic-present-tense-past-john-humphrys
    Besides,saying, ‘They are thinking it’s all over, well it is now!’ doesn’t roll off the tongue very well, does it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peter, great link! There always seems to be different terminology for the same thing – I think the ‘instantaneous’ thing is from the Parrott grammar book. Anyhow, I love your example of ‘They are thinking it’s all over…’ If I do a lesson with stronger students I might use that (contrasted with the actual phrase) as a discussion point to clarify things. Cheers!


  2. So happy to find your website. I teach in a main stream school in Sheffield


  3. Writing a paper for my own teaching certificate program (Structure of English Language) and discussing this form of dialect in sports- which I call Sports Counterfactual Conditional Historic Present (I know…but can’t leave any of it off). It is also sometime referred to in American language clusters as the Baseball Conditional- but your post makes a very good argument as to why it should be sports, not exclusive to one. Anyway-thanks, great post! Julie

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was surprisingly difficult for my B2 level students. It may have been because they lacked necessary sporting vocab (I incorrectly assumed that ‘shoot’ and ‘head’ were fairly well known from a basic level, but evidently not!) or perhaps I hadn’t set it up correctly. The dictogloss baffled them due to the accent of the commentator. It is a lot more complicated than other dictoglosses I’ve done. To move them away from needing sports vocab, I improvised by getting pairs to develop a short 30 second, action-filled role play, and had other students attempting to commentate on them – this was easier and more fun for them as the vocab wasn’t so sporting specific.

    TL:DR – needs a fair degree of confidence with sporting terminology to work well and quite tricky for pre-intermediate.

    Thanks for the great idea though. I’ll definitely tweak and modify it for future use. 🙂


    • Cheers for feedback! Actually, I agree. This worked well the first time I used it, but I reused it a few months ago and the class found it very difficult. They also lacked confidence when it came practicing their own commentary so overall the lesson wasn’t much of a success! Your improvisation sounds good by the way, glad you managed to make it work.
      I’m sitting watching the World Cup right now and thinking it’s about time I wrote another sports related lesson…!



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