If Conditionals Were Easy… Some tips and resources for busy TEFL, ESOL and EAL Teachers
Time to read 6 min
Time to read 6 min
If conditionals were easy, we wouldn’t need to spend hours thinking about how to teach them to our ESOL/TEFL or EAL students! But conditional sentences might not be as complicated as they can sometimes seem. If you need a quick review of the main types of conditional and their uses, you can download a quick guide here. If you are still familiarising yourself with the different types of conditional, it might be worth pinning a copy to your desk.
Below are some fun classroom activities that can be used at different levels to help learners understand conditional forms.
Arrange students in a circle. The teacher joins the circle and speaks to the person on one side using the first part of a conditional clause. For example; ‘If I were rich…’ The students go around the circle giving appropriate responses such as ‘I would buy a house.’ The students are not allowed to repeat anything somebody else has already said. Anyone who can’t think of something to say, who repeats a phrase already used or who makes a significant grammar mistake is ‘out’. Continue until only a few students are left in the circle and declare them the winners. Add language complexity by starting with more challenging phrases such as ‘If people eat too much meat…’ or ‘If I lived in Antarctica…’
Each student writes down the first part of a conditional sentence at the top of a piece of paper. The teacher can demonstrate with an example such as ‘If it rains tonight…’ The students then pass their papers to a neighbouring student who writes the second part of the phrase under the first. Maybe, ‘I will get wet.’ They then fold the top of the paper so that only their line is visible, and then pass it on to another student. The next student writes an appropriate response, folds the paper again and passes the paper on to another student. Continue until all the papers return to the original student (or when you think the papers have been passed around sufficiently to make the results interesting). Then ask students to read out their chains. You may get something like the following;- If it rains tonight—I will get wet—If I fall in the swimming pool—I will drown—If I fall into the sea—I will meet a dolphin—If I swim in the ocean—I will get very cold—If I play in the snow—I will … You can stipulate if students can or should mix conditionals depending on their level. This activity can easily be adapted into a board race (details in lesson plan download).
Tell your students to stand up and form two lines (teams). Set the timer on your phone to sound after about 30-45 seconds. The teacher calls out the beginning half of a conditional sentence, throws a ball or soft object to a student at the beginning of the line and asks them to complete the sentence. The student then throws the ball to their opposition in the line, who does the same, creating a different ending to the same beginning. They are not allowed to throw the ball until the student has come up with a correct sentence (as judged by the teacher). Whichever team doesn’t have the ball when the alarm sounds wins a point. If allowed and available in your teaching location, there are toy bombs which sound an alarm after a set period which can be used instead of a ball. In each new round, the team in possession of the ball should come up with the first phrase.
The teacher writes down the first part of about ten conditional sentences on separate sheets of paper, multi-coloured if possible. The sentences should be written in large, clear writing and could be repeated several times on each sheet of paper. The papers are then scrunched up and/or folded around each other. (You may need to use some sticky tape). The game is then played in the style of traditional pass the parcel. While the music is playing the students pass the parcel around the circle or the class. Before passing it on they must speak the second half of the conditional phrase written on the outside of the parcel and each student must say something different. When the music stops whoever is holding the parcel peels off the top layer of the parcel to reveal a new sentence starter written on the next layer. They must speak an appropriate second clause and the game continues in the same way as before until the music stops again. Repeat until you get to the final layer with the final sentence starter. Whoever reveals that and can come up with an appropriate response is the winner.
Create pairs of cards with beginnings and endings of conditional sentences written on them. (You decide how many you need or want). For example, Card 1 ‘If I were an astronaut’ / Card 2 ‘I would go to Mars’. Lay them face down and either mark all the backs of the beginnings with “1” and the endings with “2” or preferably, have beginnings and endings on different coloured cards. Arrange students in pairs or groups of 4, with a set of cards each. They put all the cards face down on their desks and mix them up. They then take turns picking up a beginning and then try to find the correct ending card. (You could also get them to verbally predict what the ending might be). If they find the correct match they keep the pair, if not they replace the cards face down and the next student continues. The student who ends up with the most pairs is the winner. You should design the pairings so that there is only one possible match for each starting clause. As the teacher, you can decide on which conditionals to practice, and you might want to laminate your cards and build up a collection as the school year progresses. When you have created enough cards, you can use the same game to revise mixed conditionals.
Surveys where learners must ask questions around the class, note the different responses and give some kind of feedback or conclusion, are a staple of the TEFL/ESOL teacher’s toolbox. These activities can easily be adapted to teach or revise any of the conditional forms. Each student is given one question to ask their classmates and a form on which they can record the various answers. The conditionals you use can depend on the ability level of the students you are teaching. For B1 level students, you might use questions such as ‘What is the first thing you would buy if you won a million pounds?’ Or, ‘What should the punishment be if somebody cheats on a test?’ For older or more advanced students you might choose some third conditional questions such as, ‘If you hadn’t been born in this country, how would your life have been different?’ Apart from the mingling itself, the fun and communicative aspect of these activities may be in how each student reports their results; so there is potential here for the use of graphs, drawings, posters or PowerPoint presentations.
‘If’ questions can form the basis of all sorts of discussions and debates for more advanced students. You could organise a whole class or group discussions, formal or informal debates. See our interesting TEFL debate topics blog here. An activity that would work well in this context would be for students to organise political parties in groups which they present to the rest of the class. The political parties could be either serious or comical. After each presentation, students from other groups have to ask ‘What would you do if’ questions related to the political presentations. For example, ‘What would you do if you were prime minister?’ or ‘What would you do if there was a strike?’
‘If’ sentences and questions can form the starting point for dialogues, drama work and the creation of board games. These activities can be adapted across all levels. Below is a selection of if sentences and questions that could be used for these and other activities.
If climate change continues the weather will ___________________________.
If animals could talk _______________________________________________.
If we went to school at night instead of day ____________________________.
If nobody ate meat ________________________________________________.
If you were given the opportunity to be born again, what would you change in your life?
If you could have dinner with someone, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
If you always had to tell the truth, what kind of problems would you encounter?
If you could live without sleep, how would you spend your nights?
If you were given a choice between great wisdom or great wealth, which would you choose?
If you could live forever, would you? Why or why not?
Finally, if you could download a quiz for practising conditionals, would you do it? If the answer is yes, download it below!