7 Activities for Teaching Conditionals in the ESL Classroom
One of the great things about teaching conditionals is that once you discover some classroom activities that work well for one, they can be adapted to suit any of the conditional patterns that you may be asked to teach. Here are 7 fun activities for teaching conditionals for the ESL classroom that you can easily adapt to help your students understand the correct structures and usages.
1. Pass the Pig
Tell your students to stand up and form in two lines (teams) and have an item that can be thrown and caught without causing injury or damage. 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 the ball to a student at the beginning of the line and asks them to complete it. The student then throws the ball to their opposition in the line, who does the same, creating a different ending to the same beginning. Whichever team DOESN’T have the ball when the alarm sounds wins a point. Restart at the place where the ball is with a new beginning.
(Example with zero conditional: When I feel bored, I……fall asleep, go for a walk, phone a friend…)
2. Chain Conditionals
This is a more challenging version of pass the pig and is sometimes referred to as a “conditional train”. The extra challenge is to create a new sentence using the end of the previous one. As with “pass the pig”, the teacher begins with a sentence, for example with a first conditional: 'If I go out tomorrow, I’ll go to a beach.' The next person in the team relay must then use the end of the previous sentence .. If I go to the beach, I’ll sunbathe….. If I sunbathe, I’ll get burnt… If I get burnt, I’ll go to a pharmacy…. Bear in mind you can include modals such as ‘might’ and ‘could’ in this pattern too.
3. Pelmanism (“Concentration”)
This is a game based on memorizing cards or other objects placed in front of the players that has become a standard activity in the ESL classroom. It is known as “Concentration” in many countries. Create 5 pairs of cards with beginnings and endings written on them. For example, with a second conditional: Card 1 “If I lived in Antartica” / Card 2 “I would be very cold”. Lay them face down and either mark all the backs of the beginnings with “1” and the endings with “2” or have beginnings and endings on different colored card. Set students up in groups of 2-4, with a set of cards each. They put all the cards face down and take turns picking up a beginning, saying what a suitable ending might be and then pick up an ending card. If they are a suitable match they keep the pair, if not they replace the cards face down and the next student continues. You must design the pairings so that there is only one possible match. Make sure the students say what the ending might be before picking up the second card to maximize student talk time. The student with the most cards at the end wins. Can repeat as time allows.
4. Mill Drill Questionnaire
Mill-drills, or mingling activities, are another ESL standard which use the simple questionnaire idea whereby students ask each other questions prepared by the teacher and write down their answers. Create a form with room for names and answers so that students can report back about what they’ve found out, using the target language pattern.
Example, for 3rd conditional:
What would have happened if…?
Lucy: We hadn’t invented the wheel?
Joe: we would have traveled around by horse. What would have happened if you had ruled the world?
Sue: There wouldn’t have been any wars.
5. Group Discussions
Set students up into small groups with role-plays such as tour companies, or as political parties creating an election manifesto, (have fun having them choose their names). Give them conditional questions such as:
What would you do about traffic congestion if you were the government? (2nd conditional)
What do people do when they go on holiday with your tour company? (zero conditional)
Give out the same question to each group and allow them a few minutes to come up with their best responses. They report back with their ideas and you act as a voter or customer deciding which you would choose. Repeat with the next question or scenario as time allows.
6. Board Game With Prompts
You can use snakes and ladders (chutes and ladders) or any similar game board and adapt it to your target language point. To make the game more versatile, have squares with different colors and create your own cards in the colors that either have starts for students to create endings to, errors to correct or questions related to previous lessons. When the student lands on a square they pick up the matching card and carry out the task. If they do it correctly, they stay where they are and if not, they go back to where they came from.
7. Using Songs
This idea is certainly more suited to a teacher who has a regular class of students, but is something that could be used to good effect if you do a little bit of pre-teaching at the end of one class by giving students a basic pattern to look for, and task them with finding songs with that pattern in for the next class: Students must listen for the conditionals in the song then create some alternative, possibly less musical but more amusing lyrics in groups during the lesson.
Two example songs:
Eric Clapton, “Change the World” If I could change the world, …… (2nd conditional)
Gloria Gaynor, “I will survive” If I'd known for just one second you'd be back to bother me, …….. (3rd or mixed conditionals)
Also read: Top 5 Icebreakers for New TEFL Teachers
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