Ideas for Teaching Conditionals

An excellent idea for controlled practice for all conditionals is to use a chain-story. To start off this activity, the teacher models a conditional clause (e.g. first conditional) such as 'if I go out tonight, . . .' and elicits the appropriate conditional ending such as; '. . . , I will go to a bar.' The next student continues 'If I go to a bar, I’ll meet a beautiful girl.' This continues until each student has taken a turn or if the class is really into the activity, until the teacher feels the need to move on with the lesson. Regardless, this usually ends up in an amusing fashion and students have fun while the structure is reinforced.

This will work for all conditionals.

A. Ideas for teaching the first conditional

Activity 1: A freer activity for first conditional could be to have a ‘live political debate'

Divide the class into two teams. Tell them that it's the night before the general election, and it's the last chance for the two main parties to convince voters to vote for them. To keep it fun, give the parties names such as the 'Vodka Party' or the 'Ice Cream Party'.

Give them a few minutes to decide on their policies and how they will convince 'the public' i.e. you to vote for them. Most likely, you will need to give them a couple of examples first, such as:

'If you vote for us, we'll give everyone a free bottle of vodka on their birthday.'

'If you choose their party, they will steal all your money.'

You'll also need to pre-teach some election vocabulary such as 'vote, election, etc.

At the end of the activity, go over any mistakes or errors (there is a difference) which you noted and then decide who won the debate.

Activity 2 (First Conditional Functions): : Write the words 'threat', 'advice', 'suggestion', 'warning', 'prediction', 'offer' and 'suggestion' on the board and an example of each, such as:

'If you don't stop smoking, you're going to have serious health problems.'

'Give me the money, or I'll shoot you.'

Students the match the example to their function and then come up with their own in pairs. One student thinks of an example, and the other says what's its function. Example:

Student A: 'I'll look after your cat for the weekend if you want.'

Student B: 'Offer.'

Activity 3 (Worst-Case Scenarios): Students say what they are going to do e.g. 'I'm going to Turkey for my holidays' and their partner has to come up with a worst-case scenario e.g. 'Oooh, if you go to Turkey, you'll get bitten by a scorpion!' This chain-story continues until all the possibilities have been exhausted. This might look as follows:

Student A: 'I'm going to Turkey for my holidays.'

Student B: 'Oooh, if you go to Turkey, you'll get bitten by a scorpion!'

Student A: 'What will happen if I get bitten by a scorpion?'

Student B: 'If you get bitten by a scorpion, your leg will fall off'

N.B. Russians can be superstitious so, if they don't go for it, drop it.

B. Ideas for teaching the second conditional

Activity 1 (What if…?): Give your students hypothetical questions such as 'What would you do if you had a choice between drinking through your nose or eating through your ears?' or 'What would you do if you were a member of the opposite sex for a day?

The more imaginative and ridiculous, the better.

Activity 2 (Advice): To practice the structure, 'If I were you, I'd . . . .' (or I wouldn't . . . .” Students take it in turns to come up with a variety of problems and their partner advises them.

Activity 3 (Current Affairs): Brainstorm current affairs and then students say how situations could be improved e.g. 'If he resigned, our team could get a better manager'.

C. Ideas for teaching the third conditional

Activity 1 (Past Speculation): Choose different categories e.g. your life, politics, sport, inventions, this morning etc. Students then speculate on how things could have turned out differently e.g. 'If I'd learned Arabic at school, I could have worked in the Middle-East', 'If I hadn't come to class today, I could have met my girlfriend in a cafe'.

N.B. This will also work for mixed conditionals e.g. 'If I had studied harder, I could have a better job now.'

Activity 2 (Backwards Disaster Story):: Give them the final line of this story: 'As Peter sat on the side of the street with no money, no home and no shoes, he realized what terrible mistakes he'd made.

Students in pairs then recreate the events that led up to this situation using the third conditional. While the activity is being conducted, the teacher should monitor the activity offering help with vocabulary, when needed, and making notes of errors for correction during the feedback session.

D. Ideas for teaching Future Time Clauses

Activity 1 (Future plans): Write 'as soon as', 'until', 'when', 'in case' and 'before' on the board and get students to tell each other about their future plans using any of the structures written down e.g. 'I'm going to buy a new handbag as soon as I get paid'.

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