What has just happened?

Written by: Larry Walder



Time to read 8 min

Using the present perfect for news of recent events

Perhaps you have just found this website. In that case, you have just started reading this article. Maybe you have only just realised that the use of the present perfect to convey news of things that have just happened is a somewhat neglected area of grammar. It is often added on to more detailed work on the present perfect as if it were an afterthought.

For TEFL and ESOL teachers the use of ‘just’ combined with the present perfect tense presents an opportunity to use some interesting and engaging activities with our students.

In this article, we highlight this particular use of the present perfect tense to give it a bit more prominence and we suggest some simple and fun classroom activities that can be adjusted to most levels of ability. Finally, we will provide a downloadable lesson plan.

Let’s begin by putting this aspect of the present perfect into context and looking at some of the problems our students may have in understanding the correct way to use this tense in English.

What is the present perfect?

The basic form of the present perfect is relatively easy for English language teachers to teach and for students of English to understand; have/has + past particle, as in ‘she has eaten her breakfast. The difficulty lies in its application. When should we use the present perfect?

Different languages have their own versions of the Present Perfect tense, but they are not always used the same way as in English. This can trip up language learners because they tend to rely on how the tense works in their own language. Take German, for example. In many places where German is spoken, people often use the Present Perfect tense in casual conversation to talk about the past, while English speakers would use the Past Simple tense. However, in formal writing, they revert to their own Past Simple form. So, German learners of English might think of the Present Perfect as something you use casually, only when you're speaking, not when you're writing formally. This is a typical case of L1 interference. Getting students to see the English way of using the Present Perfect as a completely new thing can be difficult!

I generally try to simplify the explanation of the present perfect tense for my students by identifying four main reasons for its use. I find this method effective because each reason corresponds to different activities, making it easier for students to grasp.

Ongoing Situations

This usage refers to things that started in the past and continue to be true in the present. To illustrate this, I often draw timelines on the board and encourage students to create their own. With younger students, I allow time for them to draw and decorate their timelines, which helps the concept sink in. A crucial grammar point here is the use of 'for' and 'since' to denote duration or starting point. For example, we might look at a timeline and say, "She has lived in London for ten years" or "She has lived in London since 2014." Students typically understand this concept easily, and there are numerous grammar exercises available in books or online to reinforce their understanding.

Life Experiences

This aspect involves experiences from the past that have contributed to who you are today. While some students may grasp the connection between past experiences and present identity, it can be more challenging for younger learners to see this link. However, there are plenty of games and activities that can make this point clearer. Such activities would include class surveys or 'Find Someone Who' games. e.g. ‘Find someone who has lived in another country. Find someone who has eaten tofu. Find somebody who has met a famous person. Find out how many people in the class have been to London.

Past Action with Present Result

Here, the present perfect tense is used to describe something that must have happened in the past based on observable evidence in the present. I encourage students to think of themselves as detectives deducing past events from current situations. For example, if a student returns to school after an absence with a cast on their leg, students can deduce that they must have had some form of accident. You can come up with other scenarios or invite your students to think up scenarios for their classmates to guess what happened. A lot of lateral thinking conversations and games can develop from this. For example, a man is lying dead on the ground miles from anywhere with a torn backpack lying beside him. What has happened to him? The students ask questions, and you answer. Eventually, the students will guess that he is a parachutist who jumped out of a plane, but his parachute failed to open. The key grammar point is that you can work out what happened in the past based on what you see now.

News of Recent Events

This is the fourth use of the present perfect and the one we will focus on in this article. Using 'just' with the present perfect tense emphasises that something has happened very recently. We will go into more detail and suggest activities to help teach this concept shortly.

By breaking down the present perfect tense into these four reasons for using it, the conceptual element becomes clearer for learners. At the same time linking these uses to fun activities makes it more accessible and engaging for learners of English.

Just And The Present Perfect

As an adverb ‘just’ can have two meanings. The first meaning (which we will not cover in this article) is as a synonym for ‘exactly’ or ‘precisely’, as in, ‘that is just what I meant.’ The second meaning is to emphasise that something happened very recently or in the immediate past. In this context, it is often used together with the present perfect.

Activities Using Just and The Present Perfect.

Gap Fill Exercises

Most English textbooks and grammar books provide plenty of gap-fill exercises in which students need to insert the word ‘just’ and the correct form of the verb. It is worth getting the students to do a few of these, but repetitive exercises like this can quickly get boring. It is more interesting and challenging for students to make up their own gap-fill texts to test their classmates with. The advantage of this is that they have to really think about the conceptual element behind this usage. Would native speakers of English really use ‘just’ or the present perfect in this context?

Role-Playing Scenarios for Dialogues and Drama

Create role-playing scenarios where students have to use the present perfect tense with "just" to describe recent experiences. For instance:

A school project.

Student A: Have you finished your project?

Student B: Yes, I've just finished it.

Student A: That's great! When did you start working on it?

The dialogues can be short and simple as in the example given for lower-level students or longer and more complex for higher-level students. Other scenarios you could distribute to students include; somebody arriving home from work, watching a new film or TV series, finishing a book, planting something in the garden, completing work or chores around the house, the weather (it has just started to rain), etc.

Timeline Activity

This is a speaking activity. Begin by giving students a simple timeline of a day or week and ask them to describe what they have normally done at specific times using the present perfect tense with "just".

6:00 am - Wake up Get Dressed

7:00 am - Have breakfast

8:00 am - Start school

9.00 am -Maths Test

2:00 pm - Finish school

2.30 pm -Lunch

3.00 pm -Homework

5.00 pm -Meet Friends

7.00 pm -Play video games

9.00 pm Go to bed

For example, “Imagine it is 6.10 am, what have you just done?” “I have just brushed my teeth.” Or, “I have just had a shower.” Once they have got the basic idea and are using the grammar form correctly ask them to come up with more complex, interesting, imaginative or funny answers. For example, “It is 7.00 pm, what have you just done?” “I have just fed tigers and eaten the cat.”

You can extend the activity by getting your students to write timelines for famous people, fictitious characters, animals or aliens and then asking questions to each other. Perhaps the students can guess who or what they are talking to by listening to the answers they are given. For example;- “At 6.00 am you have just gone to bed. At 8.00 pm you have just woken up. At 9.00 pm you have just had a bite to eat. I think you are a vampire!”

This could be extended into a dialogue or an extended piece of writing.

Picture Work

This activity can be done individually or in pairs. Collect and distribute pictures from magazines or the internet depicting different activities or situations and ask students to describe what has just happened. It is best to avoid pictures of famous events or anything too obvious. You can begin by asking students to simply describe what they see in the picture for the benefit of other members of the class. This practices a lot of general vocabulary and often parallels what they may be asked to do in speaking exams. After they have described the picture ask them to guess or deduce what has just happened. For example, ‘The tree has just fallen down.’ ‘She has just scored a goal. The monkey has just escaped from the zoo’ etc. This could be extended into dialogues or roleplays in groups to act out the situations depicted.

Writing Prompts

This Just happened… You could use the pictures from the last activity as prompts for further writing in which your students start with the thing that has just happened and then describe the events that lead up to that situation or perhaps go on to explain what happened next.

Alternatively, written or oral prompts could include;

Write a paragraph about a recent experience you've had using "just".

Write a story beginning with one of these phrases; It had just turned midnight… It had just started snowing… My phone had just run out of power when… We had just finished dinner… The plane had just taken off… The lions had just been fed… I had just finished school… I had just arrived in the office…

Describe a recent achievement or accomplishment using "just".

Write a newsflash using ‘just’ and the present perfect.

(See the lesson plan download for more ideas for writing news reports using ‘just’)

Listening Comprehension

Record and collect audio snippets from drama series, news reports or anything else that seems interesting. The recordings could be of dialogue or sound effects or a mixture of the two. As with the picture activity described previously, the student’s task is to work out what has just happened. For more advanced students use longer more involved listening texts in which the students have to work out what just happened, how, why and perhaps who did it.


These are just a few ideas to help intermediate TEFL and ESOL students learn and practice the correct use of 'just' with the present perfect tense in a communicative and engaging way. Through active participation and reflection, students are more likely to understand the conceptual elements of this aspect of grammar which will boost their confidence when using these structures in speaking and writing.

Meanwhile don’t forget to download our lesson plan which focuses on drama roleplays based on recent news stories to highlight the correct use of ‘just’ and the Present Perfect tense.