The Conditionals Lesson (student friendly)
Hi there everyone. Conditionals! Boom, love ‘em but our students, hate ‘em. Completely understandable if you think about the way we teach them. I mean no English speaking native knows what a conditional even is, generally speaking that is. How can we teachers expect our students to learn all the tenses and modals and verb patterns that go into the sentence structure of our conditionals? It’s nonsense! We must change the approach so in this lesson I’ve got some lesson ideas worth a try. I am not guaranteeing anything but I’ve used these and my students have found them helpful in putting conditional sentences to use in a practical way not just for solving grammatical equations 🙂
I’d like to mention that here I’m giving you a rough overview and including all the conditionals but if you choose to focus on one or two specific conditionals you can easily adapt it to fit your needs.
What does each(conditional) express?
You can introduce the conditionals we have by simply putting four example sentences on the board/projector and follow up with questions on which sentence/example expresses each conditional as in this scan below:
This is taken from close-up C1 but is just an example, you can very easily change the sentences for a topic you prefer making sure you use the correct structures. The B section in this scan though should remain the same. Once your students have matched the examples with what they express you can provide additional examples of your own to reinforce the usage. So for example:
Zero conditional: If you heat water it boils.
This is the typical example in many traditional course books and it’s crap! It’s not practical and therefore useless, who says this? I mean honestly. Let’s try it again.
Zero conditional: If it’s sunny I wear my sunglasses. If I’m stressed I do yoga.
This expresses a general truth for you, every time!
Do this with the other conditionals, in the same way. For the first conditional, which expresses a real or likely situation give multiple examples of this:
- If I finish my homework early, I’ll meet up with my friends for a coffee.
- If it stops raining I’ll take my dog for a walk.
- If I get hungry, I’ll just buy something on the road.
Activities for first conditionals
Here’s an activity to practice this:
Put students in groups of three or four and tell them to continue the sequence. After each sentence the group should ask what will happen next. E.g. if it’s sunny….
A: if it’s sunny, I’ll go to the park.
Group: what will you do if you go to the park?
B: If I go to the park, I’ll play basketball
Group: what will you do if you win?
C: I we win, we’ll go to the pub.
Here are the other sequence starters: If it rains tomorrow… If I study hard…. If he rings…… If we win the match….. If we save enough…. If I learn Polish/German/Italian…. If I pass my final exams….. If I get a promotion….. If my parents let me……
I’m sure you can think of more…. Add as many as you like, here’s another activity:
Move house, holiday, good job, not drink, garden, suntan, save money, be thirsty
be positive, bicycle, cat, eat less, miss flight, make friends, get fit, mice, lose weight,
Portuguese, go out, baby holiday, Brazil, cinema, stop work
Write these phrases on the board in two columns. Re-order the phrases in the second box. In pairs think of connections between these two group of expressions, and write sentences. E.g. If we move house, we’ll get one with a garden.
Here’s another activity:
Here are some endings for some sentences: …you’ll hurt yourself. …you’ll catch a cold. ….we’ll be late. …I’ll let you know. …it’ll taste better. …there’ll be trouble.
Write the whole sentence beginning with if.
Here’s one more, and my favourite:
Here’s a list of six functions: prediction, offer, warning, threat, advice, suggestions. (Dictate these to students)
Then dictate these 6 sentences and ask students to match them with the functions.
- If we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the train.
- If you want, I’ll do the dishes
- If you touch that wire, you’ll get an electric shock
- If you don’t stop doing that, I’ll get angry
- If you explain why you did it, hell understand.
- If you turn it round the other, it’ll fit.
In pairs compare your sentences and then write your own versions for each function.
Those activities require minimal to no materials whatsoever, and practice the practical use of the first conditional without silly exercises. Here we go with the next one, same idea.
Second and third conditional practice
As we get to the second and third this is where students start to struggle with grammar structure and become overwhelmed. But what each expresses is clear. An imaginary present situation (second) and imaginary/unreal past (third).
Make sure you provide plenty of your own examples to help with this. Here are some activities for the second conditional:
Second conditional activities
If you could live in another place and time in history what would it be? Give reasons.
Brainstorm some endings to these sentences in groups and choose the best to present ot the class.
If the world was flat… If we were all clones…. If you had two heads…. If time travel was possible… If nobody knew how to read…. if animals could speak…. If cows could fly….
If money grew on trees….. If there was no money… If everyone was telepathic…..
If I gave you 5 million dollars what would you do with it?
Write a list of five things. Read it to the class, who should get the money?
Work in pairs. Listen to these situations and write what would happen if the situations were different. E.g. its raining, we’ll have to cancel the barbecue. – if it wasn’t raining, we’d have a barbecue. If it was sunny we’d have a barbecue.
I don’t know the answer so I can’t tell you. He gets headaches because he works so hard.
We don’t have enough space for a piano She’s ill. She can’t come to the party.
Life’s easy because we have well-paid jobs. He’s not tall enough to be a policeman.
I can’t give you a lift because I haven’t got a car. She’s so rude it’s not surprising they don’t like her.
In pairs tell your partner about things in your life you would change if you had the opportunity. E.g. If I had more money, I’d travel more. If I didn’t have to work in the evenings, I’d do more exercise and get fit.
Third conditional activities
We’re left with the third conditional. Here’s an activity that potentially can also be done for homework but if you do it orally it can be even more effective. It’s better though to do this as a written exercise if the third is quite new to your students, because they need more time to process it all. However, if you want to review what they already know then this should be done orally, 100%.
In pairs, look at the following sentences and decide whether the people in each situation feel happy about what happened, unhappy about it, or just neutral. E.g. Ray went to the party.
-If Ray hadn’t gone to the party, he wouldn’t have met Maggie. (happy, because he met her).
-If he hadn’t gone to the party, he would have felt better the next morning (unhappy, because he went to the party and now he is tired / has a hangover).
-If Ray hadn’t gone to the party, he’d have gone clubbing instead (neutral, because he’d have spent the night dancing anyway)
- Terry moved to New York. He didn’t know she was coming.
- James crashed his car. Vera lost her lottery ticket.
- Sonya went to japan. Irene didn’t have a spare key
- Roger didn’t pass the exam. Tracy couldn’t sell her house.
I’m going to stop here but there’s more. Remember that this kind of practice is the best kind because it provides practical speaking practice with using the conditionals to express yourself in real life, not checking your tenses and modals and trying to work out the right patters, it’s just not an effective way of learning conditionals. Remind your students that they will only become comfortable using these conditional structures if they make an effort to use them on a daily basis and continue to practice, otherwise they forget and resort back to the old habits of expressing themselves without this important language structure that expresses so much.
All the activities I have recommended here have come from the 700 classroom activities book for teachers and one that I consider to be the very best at providing practical, materials-free activities that allow students to review English vocabulary, grammar and functions. You can find many more lesson ideas here.