If you are looking for a creative and fresh way to practice the conditional structure with your ESL students, you might want to try one of the following exercises.
They use fun stories, silly songs and pop culture to talk about what might happen if…
Try These 4 Out of the Ordinary Activities for Practicing the Conditional Tense
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…
If you haven’t read it, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” is a fun picture book which shows the chain reaction starting with, as you might guess, giving a mouse a cookie. If you do, he will want milk and a napkin which will lead to cleaning the house and coloring a picture, and ultimately to having another cookie. The book starts with an if clause, and the mouse’s resulting activities are all phrased in the conditional tense. Read this book with your class, once just for fun and then a second time pointing out the grammatical structure. (You can also play a YouTube video of someone else reading the book if you want to challenge your students’ listening skills.) Then challenge your students to write their own crazy conditional picture books. Put your students in groups of about three and have them write a story modeled after “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. You might want to start with the same if phrase or choose one of your own (e.g. If you give a snake a sandwich, if you give a chipmunk some cheese, if you give a cat a cracker…). Once students write their stories, have them illustrate them and bind them into a book. Let students share their books with the class either in a reading circle or at a reading center and enjoy the creative conditional.
If You’re Happy and You Know It…
If you’re happy and you know it, the classic children’s song, says to clap your hands. And while that’s good, your students might enjoy coming up with more creative responses for the simple little tune. Arrange your students in a circle, and teach them the simple song. Then, challenge your students to think up their own physical responses to being happy. Have one person stand in the center of the circle and sing, “If you’re happy and you know it…” At this point, have that student point to another person in the circle who must offer up a different reaction to being happy. The whole class then finishes the verse with that person’s suggestion. For example, if your student says spin around, the class would sing the song as usual substituting spin around for clap your hands. Of course, the student must phrase the conditional correctly when she gives her answer. Once that verse is completed, the second student moves to the center of the circle and takes a turn leading a round of singing with another student’s happiness reaction. If you want to challenge your students even further, lead the song yourself but use a different verb tense in your if clause. (If you had been happy and you had known it…) Make sure students use the correct form to complete the sentence.
If I Were a Boy…
Do your students know the popular song by Beyonce “If I Were a Boy”? In it she sings about how she would be different if she could change her gender. Ask your students if they have ever thought about what it would be like to be a member of the opposite sex. Play the song for your class as they follow along with a copy of the lyrics, and ask them to share any initial reactions they have after listening to it. Divide your students into two groups – girls in one group and boys in the other. (You can have two of each group if your class is very large.) Ask each group to talk about what it would be like to be a member of the opposite sex. Remind students to use the conditional appropriately as they discuss what their lives would be like as a boy/girl. After your same sex groups have discussed the question, reform your class into groups of about four students each – two males and two females in each group. Have them share the ways their initial group decided their lives would be different. At this point, students should feel free to challenge one another’s assumptions or ask clarifying questions. Once groups have finished their discussions, have the class vote on whether they would change their gender for one day, one month, one year, or not at all if they had the opportunity to do so. Ask students to share why they made the decision they did using the conditional tense.
The Worst Case Scenario
What would you do if your car was on fire? What would you do if you were attacked by a king cobra? What would you do if your only escape was from a fourth story widow? The book The Worst Case Scenario Book of Survival Questions challenges readers to answer these dilemmas for themselves. Invest in a copy of the book or borrow it from your library and ask your students to answer questions from the book to see if they know how to survive. Try giving one question to groups of two or three students to discuss. Once they have come up with what they think is the best plan, show them the answer the book gives and see if their plan matches the author’s. Then, have each group pose their question to the class and see if anyone can come up with the right answer. Have the members of each group guide the class discussion in response to their scenario. For homework, have each student come up with their own survival question and do some research on how to handle the dangerous situation. Then, have students compile a book of their survival questions and answers to make available for independent reading time in class.
Practicing the conditional tense in English can be fun and creative and still challenge your students’ language skills.
If it’s time to talk about what ifs with your students, try approaching the task from a unique and creative angle. If you do, your students will thank you, and they will definitely remember what they have learned.
What are some unusual activities you use to practice the conditional with your students?