Published 21st November 2017

Conditionals can be a bit tricky for English language learners. While the grammar itself is not difficult, the issue for the learner is more about knowing when to use the different conditionals; in other words, in what situations are the conditionals used. If you think of it in this way it then makes sense to teach the conditionals is such a way as to make clear their situational uses. Let’s now look at a few activities which can help you teach the first conditional.

The first conditional is often used for promises. One activity, then, which can be used is to talk about those promises which we always hear. Spend some time looking at or brainstorming the most common promises – This will only hurt a little bit; I will always love you; I’ll get back to you as soon as possible, If you behave I’ll give you a lollipop – and students can discuss the different situations surrounding the promises.

This can also be manipulated into a political situation. Create an election and divide the class into different political parties. The groups must then give presentations as to why they should be elected as the governing party: If you vote for us, we’ll cut taxes. Students can try think of any crazy promises they can make in order to get the votes and win the election.

First conditionals can also be used for negotiation: If you cook dinner, I’ll wash the dishes. In order to practise this, prepare a few cards before the class with a situation on each – cook dinner, wash dishes. Students must then work in pairs and negotiate with other students in order to get the best possible situation for themselves. Essentially it’ll work in a chain: If you cook dinner, I’ll wash the dishes. I’ll cook dinner if you clean my car. I’ll clean your car if you walk the dog. Students can accept or reject the offers until they have used up all their cards.

First conditionals can also be utilised for consequences – possible or likely situations in the present or future. This is the basis of a fun writing activity. Each student has a piece of paper and writes a sentence on it. This sentence should be a statement, but plans or arrangements for the future work best: I’m going to watch a movie tonight. The next student writes a conditional relating to that statement. If you watch a movie tonight, you’ll buy popco. This is then passed on but only the sentence immediately before is shown. When all the students have written sentences, the whole (hopefully funny) story can be read aloud. 

As with any grammatical point, it’s important that students are able to practise the structure in appropriate situational contexts, so it is important to find games and activities which allow this. In order for your students to be able to use structures appropriately, they need to be able to relate them to specific situations and contexts. Using these activities will do just that for the first conditional.