EC English Blog

Live and learn English


Future Forms: Grammar for Teachers

Sharing is caring!

As a trainee on our CELTA course in London or newly qualified teacher, you’re going to come up against a lot of “but what’s the difference, teacher” questions. These are the questions that can really stump you when you’ve just started teaching. Things like: 

“But what’s the difference between will and be going to, teacher?” 


“But what’s the difference between be going to and the present continuous, teacher?” 

As a teacher you have two choices in this situation. The first is to blurt out the grammar book definition and hope your students can apply this to their lives outside the classroom. You could say something like: 

“Well, will is for immediate future decisions and be going to is for future plans.” 


“Well, be going to is for plans, while present continuous is for arrangements.” 

The issue here is that you’re relying on your students understanding the subtle difference between the words plans and arrangements in their second language. To be honest, I’m not sure the average person with English as their first language would be able to rattle off the difference between the two with much ease. All we’ve done here is to give our students something to write down in their notebooks. They’re most likely no better at producing this language correctly or grasping the subtle differences than they were at the beginning of the conversation. 

So what’s the second choice then? The second option is to tell your learners a story and try to make it real for them. Here’s one that I like to tell: 

A long time ago, my partner at the time (now, my ex-partner) came home one day with a picture they had bought at a market. They came in showed me the picture they had bought. Now, unfortunately, I was not a very good partner and I was playing Xbox so didn’t really pay much attention. My partner asked me to hang the painting on the wall for them. 

A few days later my they came home and the painting was still lying against the wall where she’d left it. They were clearly frustrated.  

Now at this point I have three things I can say to my partner: 

  1. Don’t worry, I’ll hang it tomorrow. 
  1. Don’t worry, I’m going to hang it tomorrow. 
  1. Don’t worry, I’m hanging it tomorrow. 

All three of these are grammatically correct and possible in this situation. However, all of them give my partner a different piece of information. Take a moment now and consider these three questions: 

  1. What information does each of these communicate? 
  1. Which of these would make my partner happiest? 
  1. Which of these do you think I said? 

Now let’s examine them one at a time.  

 Future Form Grammatical definition What did I communicate to my partner? 
I’ll hang it tomorrow. Will Immediate future decision I have not thought about your picture at all since you brought it home. I’m deciding now to hang it tomorrow. I promise to do it but only because you brought it up again. 
I’m going to hang it tomorrow. Be going to Plan I thought about this before now and decided to hang it tomorrow. 
I’m hanging it tomorrow. Present continuous Arrangement Not only have I thought about this before now, I am fully prepared to do it tomorrow. I’ve set aside some time. I have even asked our neighbour if I can borrow a drill. 

Usually when choosing a future form, it’s not about right or wrong. Usually a number of future forms are possible. But each of them will give a different piece of information to the listener. Obviously in this situation, the final option, the present continuous would make my partner the happiest as they would know it was all organised. And, I can tell you that while this story does not paint me in the best light, it is unfortunately a true story. Which one do you think I said? That’s right, I said “Don’t worry, I’m hanging it tomorrow”. However, it would have been truer for me to say “I will hang it tomorrow” as I hadn’t given the painting a second thought. Future forms are not about right or wrong, they are about the message you want to communicate to others. 

So the next time your students ask you what the difference is between two grammar points, take a beat before rattling off the grammar book definition, spare a thought for my ex, and try to make it real for them with a story of your own.  


Find out more about future forms here:  

Find out what people have said about doing a CELTA course at EC London

Do you have questions about the CELTA course at EC London? Here are some FAQs

Interested in a Toronto CELTA course?

Find your Inspiration Motivation  Vision Voice

Let's start your journey to learning English.
About EC

Every year we help students from over 140 countries to achieve their language goals and realise their dreams at our amazing English schools across the world.

Start Your Language Learning Journey Today!

Get information on our destinations, schools and English courses.
Recent posts