Expressing probability and likelihood lesson idea

Though this is a grammar point there is no real grammar lesson here. This lesson idea just offers a speaking opportunity to practice expressing likelihood and probability through other ways than just saying probably, maybe and it’s possible. Which is what most of my students, regardless of English level, use most of the time. I’ve included an additional topic here to practice the language on a more relevant topic to students than the one presented (banking). If you like this lesson idea sign up for the “Freshen Up Fridays’ newsletter for a free lesson idea each week, student insights and videos for teachers.

The Setup

It’s quite straight forward. You have two options. ESL lesson on probability and likelihood

You can use this worksheet that I have uploaded for your convenience, the issue might be that the topic (banking) might be very dry for your students, especially if they are younger. However, this is easily adapted. You can replace the sentences with your own and keep the (target language) structures from each sentence as well as the scale on the left. Just put the scale on the whiteboard if you have to.

Scroll to the bottom of this lesson idea for alternative sentences.

The structures that need to be highlighted from each sentence are underlined.

Answers for the scale:

  1. Certain: e) Our profits will definitely increase this year. g) Small regional banks are bound to join together.
  2. Probably: b) I may well decide to change banks. h) They‘ll probably move their call center to India. i) Universal banks are likely to spread. k) We expect all banks to invest substantially in their branch networks.
  3. Possible: f) Perhaps we need to hire more financial advisors. l) We might increase our commission charges.
  4. Improbable: a) E-banking is unlikely to decrease over the next 10 years. d) There could be a takeover, but I think it’s improbable.
  5. Impossible: c) Interest rates can’t possibly stay so low. j) We certainly won’t reduce the size of our counseling area.

Here’s my Youtube episode on speculating that can provide more language related to the topic:

It’s important to highlight these other ways for expressing probability:

  • Certain: will definitely/ will certainly/ is certain to/ is sure to/ must/ has to be
  • Probable: It is [very/ highly/ extremely] probable/ likely that…
  • Improbable: It is [very/highly/ extremely] unlikely that….
  • Impossible: There’s no way that… definitely won’t/ can’t possible

Speaking: Discussion

Regardless of whether you choose to use the worksheet provided or change the sentences for a different theme for the speaking and discussion practice. I choose to discuss the future of privacy and security. It’s a hot topic this day and age and people are concerned depending on the generation of students you have in your classes which creates a great avenue for discussion and debate. This is for Upper-Intermediate students and higher, as it requires the ability to justify opinions and provide reasons and examples.

Use some of the language we just covered to discuss these issues:

Security: What are the advantages and disadvantages of these security measures?

swipe cards/ security codes, Cameras, Alarms, Guards, Body scans, Drones, High Fencing, spy satellites and Biometrics(see below).


This is a topic on it’s own. You can make a Spidergram of this word and then get the different kinds that exist. Here are the ones I’ve used:

  1. Fitness apps and sport equipment(fitness watches)
  2. Activity and lifestyle monitoring by a physician
  3. Genetic profiling (23 and me)
  4. Facial recognition and fingerprint scanners on mobile phones

Ask students to think of privacy versus security and use the target language mentioned above to discuss their concerns, worries, expectations, predictions of the future. Do the pros outweigh the cons? Here’s my privacy vs security lesson that can be used as a follow up to this beautifully.

Additional questions:

  1. What could we do to improve our personal security?
  2. Some people say that we are too obsessed with security these days. What’s your opinion?
  3. Why do think that there has been an increase in personal security devices(sprays, encryption, anti-virus, monitoring and recording) in recent years, will the trend continue?

Alternative sentence examples

a) Data breaches are unlikely to decrease over the next 10 years.

b) I may well decide to open an encrypted email account.

c) Your privacy/data can’t possibly stay so secure.

d) There could be a lot of regulation introduced, but I think it’s improbable.

e) The amount of data collected on us will definitely increase this year and into the future.

f) Perhaps we need to buy stronger anti-virus and encryption software.

g) More and more people are bound to become concerned with their privacy.

h) People will probably want more security in the future.

i) Companies are likely to introduce more biometric security features.

j) There certainly won’t be a reduction in security or data collection.

k) We should expect government and private companies to invest substantially in more CCTV cameras and sensors.

l) The presence of drones might continue to increase around us.

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