Stimulating ways to practise the imaginary situations and advice, negotiations and moral dilemmas meanings of the second conditional.
1. Moral Dilemmas
Second conditionals are used in real life to talk about questions like “What would you do if you had to choose between letting a war criminal go free so that he’d stop the war and continuing the war until he could be brought to justice?” Giving students a few questions like this to discuss can be intellectually stimulating and produce a good mix of the second conditional and other language. It can also be designed to fit in with the topics of the book (e.g. environmental moral dilemmas) or with their job or studies (e.g. medical moral dilemmas). They can also make up similar questions to ask each other.
2. Guess My Answer
The Moral Dilemmas activity above can be made more fun by getting students to guess their partners’ answers before they ask the questions. This also works for other meanings of the second conditional such as tentative offers in negotiations. Give students a list of deals such as “If I gave you 1,000 pounds, would you do my washing up for a month?” and get them to guess what their partners will say before they ask the question. They can then make up similar sentences specifically to elicit a particular response, e.g. “Would you give me your wife if I gave you my bicycle?” to obtain a “No, I wouldn’t.”
3. Sentence Completion
Give students at least fifteen second conditional sentence starters such as “If I had four legs” or “If I were the richest person in the world”. They should complete the sentences with their own ideas and then read out just the part they have written (not the sentence stems on the worksheet) for their partners to guess which sentence they wrote it in, e.g. “People would take photos of me all the time” could be written in either of those two example sentence stems above. The sentence stems could also be moral dilemmas, or you could write them to tie the second conditional in with other language points such as feelings (“I would feel _______ if the internet disappeared”) or phrasal verbs (“If _______, I would get on much better with him/her”).
4. Problem Solving
Problems like being stuck on a desert island or having a can of food but no can opener are often used in ELT for practice of “going to” for plans. However, as the students are not really in that situation it is much more natural to ask “What would you do if flood waters cut your house off?” and “What would you do if all electronic communication permanently broke down?” People can then debate which idea is best and/or vote on the best idea.
Voting can also be used in other ways to practise the second conditional. For example, people can present their ideas on what they would do if they were put in charge of the world or if they were given superpowers, and then people can vote for the best. The ideas need to be quite outlandish ones like these, because otherwise the first conditional is a more natural tense to use to present your ideas.
6. Consequences Chains
Students say or write a second conditional sentence about themselves, perhaps using a list of possible sentence stems, e.g. “If I didn’t have this class now, (I’d still be in bed).” The other students say or write the consequences of that action and the consequences of the consequences, e.g. “If you were still in bed now, you’d oversleep and feel groggy when you woke up”, “If you felt groggy when you woke up, you’d drink 3 cups of coffee”, “If you drank three cups of coffee, you’d get chest pains”, etc. They continue until they reach a certain number of steps (usually 8 to 10 is a good number) or come to a natural conclusion.
6. Personality Questionnaires
This is kind of an extension of the moral dilemmas idea above. Students write second conditional questions to test their partners on one personality trait or more, then ask them the questions and judge their answers without telling them what they are being tested on. The people who are answering the questions could then guess the topic(s) and how well they have done before being told the results. For example, for “brave” they could be asked questions like “If you saw that the person sitting next to you had a gun in their belt, what would you do?”
7. If I Were You
Any fun activities on giving advice can be used with second conditional phrases like “If I were you,…”, “If I were in your place,…” and “If I was in your shoes,…”. Possibilities include writing agony aunt letters, giving deliberately bad advice, and guessing the problems from the advice given.
8. If You Answered Me That Way
Students ask each other second conditional questions in the hope of getting specific answers, e.g. “What would you do if you won the national lottery?” to make their partner say “I’d quit my job” or “Under what circumstances would you buy a gun?” to get the reply “If there was a foreign invasion.” The responses that they should get could be given on slips or a worksheet, or they could write down responses for themselves or others to obtain.
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