How to Teach Adverbs of Frequency in English

09/04/2018 By
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Adverbs are an important part of a language because they express how an action (a verb) is done. When we want to describe how often the action is done, we need to use adverbs of frequency. But how do you teach this to your students? Read on to find out our top tips and examples!

What are Adverbs of Frequency?

An adverb of frequency describes how often an action happens. There are six main adverbs of frequency that we use in English: always, usually (or normally), often, sometimes, rarely, and never.

  • How do you usually introduce or elicit these from your students? Which ones do you find your students usually struggle with?
  • A good way to explain the difference in frequency is by using % as you can see in the picture below.

They differ in the level of frequency, as you can see below.

We can also use ‘seldom’ as an alternative to ‘rarely’, but it is not very common in modern English.

How to teach Adverbs of Frequency

I find it useful to show students the table above, so that they can see the most common position for adverbs of frequency is between the subject and the verb. Here are some other examples I tend to use with them:

  • Sara always goes out on Saturday evenings.
  • Jane’s boyfriend usually picks her up and they drive into the city centre.
  • Ben and Emma often go for lunch together.
  • In the winter Sara sometimes goes Skiing in France.
  • James and Stephen rarely go to the cinema in the summer because they prefer to stay outside.
  • As Marta is so busy she never gets home from work before 7

Are there any example sentences you use which you feel help students to grasp the meaning better than the above ones?

Once students have understood this we then have to introduce them to the exception to this rule- the verb ‘to be’. With sentences using the verb ‘to be’, the adverb of frequency comes after the verb. For example:

  • There are always lots of people in the city centre on Saturday nights.
  • It’s often difficult to find a place to park.
  • But our friends are never on time so it doesn’t matter if we’re late.

As is often the case in English, there are variations to this rule. For example, it’s possible to put the adverbs ‘sometimes’ and ‘usually’ at the beginning of a sentence:

  • Sometimes she does her homework with friends.
  • Usually they study on their own.

It’s easier to encourage students to follow the rule of putting all adverbs of frequency between the subject and verb. Just remember to remind them the verb ‘to be’ is different and put the adverb after it.

How do you usually concept check this as sometimes it can be confusing!?

The Question Form

To make questions about frequency, we normally use ‘How often…?’. For example:

  • How often do you watch films?
  • How often does he play tennis?
  • How often do the trains arrive late?

But it’s also possible to ask questions simply with an adverb of frequency. For example:

  • Do you often come here?
  • Does she always work so hard?
  • Do they ever pay on time? (‘ever’ instead of ‘never’ for questions)

 

Adverbs of Frequency with Modal Verbs and Auxiliary Verbs

Next we need to remind students that there is a modal verb in the sentence, we put the adverb of frequency after it and before the main verb. For example:

  • You must always try your best.
  • We can usually find a seat on our train.
  • They should never be rude to customers.  

The same rule applies for an auxiliary verb – the adverb of frequency goes between the auxiliary verb and the main verb. For example:

  • I have never visited Turkey.
  • He’s always taking things from my desk. It’s really annoying.
  • You had rarely arrived late at work until yesterday.

How do you usually explain this to your students?

 

What activities do you like to do with students so they can practice using questions about frequency?

I usually get my students to write a few questions and then walk around the room mingling and asking/ answering each other- here are some examples:

  1. What do you usually do on Saturday nights?
  2. How often do you see your best friend?
  3. Do you ever go to the theatre?
  4. How often do you play sport or go to the gym?
  5. Do you ever watch films or TV programmes in English?
  6. What time do you usually go to bed?
  7. How often do you eat at a restaurant?
  8. Are you sometimes late for work or school?

Let us know what you usually do and what works well for you! Please share your tips and experiences in the comments section below!

2 thoughts on “How to Teach Adverbs of Frequency in English”

  • Frankie 10.04.18

    I always use percentages when I teach this grammar topic- the most popular activity I found to practice this was ‘Three lies and a Truth’ I model it first so my students get to know more about me and then I get them to write them about themselves.

    • Gena 03.05.18

      I think that you can use the percentages to check the concept but many students get too hung up on them so they don’t understand a sentence like this: I usually wear gloves while ice skating, especially if we establish that I rarely go ice skating. I think any activity the improves STT is great, any chance you get to increase production will improve learning.

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Mary Milne avatar

Mary Milne

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Mary Milne has worked for Wall Street English for 20 years. After studying at the University of Bristol and subsequently doing a CELTA course, she began her career in teaching. Over the years she has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in ESL and has worked as an Online Community Manager, and author for Wall Street English International and Pearson, writing informative educational content. She dedicates most of her free time to music, playing in a band and singing in a choir.

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