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Practical Lesson Plans for Teaching "If" Conditionals

Robert W. Norris

2003. Bulletin of Fukuoka International University, No. 10

Abstract

Based on the earlier proposed model (Norris, 2003: 39-50) for introducing "if" conditionals to ESL/EFL students, this paper presents a variety of lesson plans for teaching these troublesome forms.

Keywords: conditionals, if sentences, backshifting, ESL, EFL, grammar

Introduction

In an earlier paper (Norris, 2003) I examined relevant research on the difficulties inherent in the teaching and learning of conditionals, then proposed a simple model (see Appendix) that goes beyond the traditional way of introducing and practicing these troublesome forms.

The sections on relevant research included the main difficulties related to the many types of conditionals; their frequency, number, and usage; their grammatical structures; and some areas of controversy. The proposal section outlined a means of simplifying and combining conditional categories by focusing on (a) time-tense relationships and backshifting and (b) the relationship of "hope" and "wish" sentences to "if" conditionals.

This second paper presents a variety of detailed lessons based on the ideas outlined in the previous paper and designed (a) to facilitate Japanese university students' consciousness-raising and noticing of English "if" conditional patterns and (b) to encourage the students' active production of "if" conditionals with minimal preparation and maximum personal involvement. This paper is divided into two parts. The first part introduces the patterns outlined in the proposed model, sample sentences, and initial production exercises centered on "hope" and "wish" sentences with corresponding "if" sentences explaining the reasons for the "hope" and "wish" sentences. The second part has extended production activities that guide students to produce the target patterns, as well as raising their consciousness of the patterns.

Introductory Exercises

Hopes and Type 1 If Sentences

Put the following patterns and sample sentences on the board.

I hope + subject + present tense + (future word)
If + subject + present tense + (future word), subject + will/might/can + verb + (future word).

I hope the Giants win the game tomorrow.
If the Giants win the game tomorrow, I will be happy tomorrow.

Explain that hopes and the "type 1 if" sentence pattern almost always refer to future possibilities. Explain the "one step back" rule concerning using a present tense verb in the "hope" sentence and "if" clause in the "if" sentence. Point out that the pattern is the same in the "hope" sentence and in the "if" clause in the "if" sentence. Explain that the choice of auxiliary in the result clause refers to either the strength of the possibility or the ability to do or be something. Emphasize the importance of including a future time word or expression at the end of each sentence or clause. The purpose is to raise the students' consciousness about the backshifting of tenses in these sentences. As they become used to recognizing and producing conditional sentences, this requirement can eventually be eliminated if the time element is known to both speakers and listeners (or writers and readers).

Have each of the students make a list of 5-10 future hopes, as well as possible results if the hopes come true. Explain the "if" sentences describe the reasons for the hopes. While the students are writing their sentences, walk around giving help where needed and making sure the students are following the patterns.

Present Wishes and Type 2 If Sentences

Put the following patterns and sample sentences on the board.

I wish + subject + past tense + (now)
If + subject + past tense + (now), subject + would/could + verb + (now).

I wish I was tall now.
If I was tall now, I could play basketball now.

Explain that present wishes and the "type 2 if" sentence pattern almost always refer to present unrealities. Explain the "one step back" rule concerning using a past tense verb in the "wish" sentence and the "if" clause in the "if" sentence. Point out that the pattern is the same in the "wish" sentence and in the "if" clause in the "if" sentence. Explain that the auxiliary chosen for the result clause refers to either the strength of the unreal possibility or the unreal ability to do or be something, and that "would" and "could" are the past forms of "will" and "can." Emphasize the importance of including the time word "now" at the end of each sentence or clause. The purpose is to raise the students' consciousness about the backshifting of tenses in these sentences and that although these patterns refer to the present moment, they take the past form.

Have each of the students make a list of 5-10 present wishes, as well as results if the wishes really came true. Explain the "if" sentences describe the reasons for the wishes. While the students are writing their sentences, walk around giving help where needed and making sure the students are following the patterns.

This pattern often causes initial confusion due to both the aspect of unreality and the backshifting of tenses. It can be very helpful to first have the students make a list of 5-10 present facts about which they are dissatisfied and the reasons for the dissatisfaction. For example: "I'm too short, so I can't play basketball." "I don't have any money, so I can't buy a car." and "I live far from school, so I have to get up early." The process of taking present facts and dissatisfaction and turning them into sentences expressing unreality can be demonstrated on the board as follows.

Fact
Result
I'm too short (now).
I don't have any money (now).
I live far from school (now).
I can't play basketball (now).
I can't buy a car (now).
I have to get up early (now).

Opposite of real fact
Opposite of real result
I'm tall (now).
I have a lot of money (now).
I don't live far from school (now).
I can play basketball (now).
I can buy a house (now).
I don't have to get up early (now).

One step back
One step back
I was tall (now).
I had a lot of money (now).
I didn't live far from school (now).
I could play basketball (now).
I could buy a house (now).
I wouldn't have to get up early (now).

The students can then produce their "wish" and "if" sentences by following the patterns written on the board. For example:

"I wish I was tall (now). If I was tall (now), I could play basketball (now)."
"I wish I had a lot of money (now). If I had a lot of money (now), I could buy a house (now)."
"I wish I didn't live far from school (now). If I didn't live far from school (now), I wouldn't have to get up early (now)."
Past Wishes and Type 3 If Sentences

Put the following patterns and sample sentences on the board.

1a. I wish + subject + past perfect tense (had + p.p.) + (past word).
If + subject + past perfect tense (had + p.p.) + (past word), subject + would/could + verb + now).

1a. I wish I hadn't drunk (last night).
If I hadn't drunk (last night), I wouldn't have a headache (now).

1b. I wish + subject + past perfect tense (had + p.p.) + (past word)
If + subject + past perfect tense (had + p.p.) + (past word), subject + would/゙could + have + p.p. (past word).

1b. I wish I had studied before the test (last week).
If I had studied before the test (last week), I would have passed the test (last week).

Explain that past wishes and the "type 3 if" sentence patterns usually refer to past unrealities. Explain the "one step back" rule concerning using a past perfect tense verb in the "wish" sentence and the "if" clause in the "if" sentence. Point out that the pattern is the same in the "wish" sentence and the "if" clause in the "if" sentence. Explain the importance of differentiating between present and past results. If there is a present result of the past action (e.g., "I have a headache [now]"), the pattern for the result clause is the same as that for the "type 2 if" result clause. If there is a past result of the past action (e.g., "I didn't pass the test [last week]"), the new pattern must be followed (i.e., subject + would/could + have + p.p. [past word]). This differentiation between present and past results of a past action inevitably causes confusion in the beginning. Again, it is helpful to demonstrate on the board the process by which past actions with present or past results are turned into sentences expressing past and present unreality.

Past Fact
Present Result
I drank too much (last night). I have a headache (now).
Opposite of real fact
Opposite of real result
I didn't drink (last night). I don't have a headache (now).
One step back
One step back
I hadn't drunk (last night). I wouldn't have a headache (now).
Past Fact
Past Result
I didn't study (last week). I didn't pass the test (last week).
Opposite of real fact
Opposite of real result
I studied (last week). I passed the test (last week).
One step back
One step back
I had studied (last week). I would have passed the test (last week).


Have each of the students make a list of 5-10 past wishes, as well as possible results if the wishes would or had come true. Explain the "if" sentences describe the reasons for the wishes. While the students are writing their sentences, walk around giving help where needed and making sure the students are following the patterns, as in the following:

"I wish I hadn't drunk (last night).
If I hadn't drunk last night, I wouldn't have a headache (now)."

"I wish I had studied (last week).
If I had studied (last week), I would have passed the test (last week)."

Type 4 If Sentences

Put the following patterns and sample sentences on the board.

1. If + subject + verb/modal, subject + same verb tense/modal
1a. If my dad told me to do something, I did it [when I was a little boy].
1b. If he told a joke, we laughed.
1c. If we visited grandmaェfs place, we always took off our shoes before entering.
1d. If you can do it, I can do it, too.
1f. If you wonェft go, I wonェft go.
1g. When you heat water to 100 degrees C, it boils.

Explain that while "hope" and "type 1 if" sentences deal with future possibilities, and "wish" and "types 2 and 3 if" sentences deal with present and past unreality, "type 4 if" sentences deal with facts, habits, customs, and routines. Explain that "when" or "whenever" can replace "if" in these sentences. The nuance of "always," "usually," "never," etc. is very strong. Have the students list up their own present and past routines and habits, then follow the pattern in making their own "type 4 if" sentences.

Type 5 If Sentences

Students can be told to use this category to include all "if" patterns they come across that don't fall into the other four categories. They are not asked to produce any sample sentences at this stage. They need only be aware that there are other types of patterns that exist.

Production Exercises

Interview Dictation Race

The teacher must first organize the classroom so there is a lot of space in the middle. For example, in a class of 24 students the desks and chairs can be arranged in eight groups of three in a U-shape against three walls. Eight chairs are placed in a straight line at the front so that all teams are approximately equidistant from their assigned chairs at the front.

Each group has one reporter, one interviewee, and one writer. The interviewee from each group sits in the group's chair at the front. The writer sits at the group's home base. The teacher gives the signal to start. The reporters go to the interviewee and ask "Whatェfs your hope and why?" The interviewee answers. The reporter remembers the answer and races back to the home base to dictate the answer to the writer.

After five hopes and reasons have been completed, members change roles. The process continues until five more answers are completed. Members change roles again. The first group to complete all 15 sets of hopes and "if" reasons is declared the winner. Members can double-check their sentences to see if they have followed the patterns correctly. This activity can be used for present and past wishes and their corresponding "if" sentences, as well as for reviewing almost any pattern.

I Would Like to be a ____ .1

You need a set of 25-30 cards or pictures of different animals for each group of three to five students. The teacher first reviews the ェgtype 2 ifェh pattern (If + subject + past tense, subject + would/could + verb). Next, the teacher puts this cued dialogue on the board:

A: "I'd like to be a ___."
C/D/E: "Why?"
A: Reason (use ェgtype 2 ifェh pattern) + "How about you?" (said to student B)
B: "I wouldn't like to be a ___."
C/D/E: "Why?"
B: Reason (use ェgtype 2 ifェh pattern + "Wouldn't you agree?" (said to students C, D, & E)
C: "I agree with (A or B)."
D: "I agree with (A or B)."
E: "I agree with (A or B). (A or B) wins. Let's go to the next one."

The class is divided into groups of five. The animal cards are again placed face down in the middle of each group. Student 1 picks a card and shows it to the others. Student 1 becomes A and the student to her right becomes B. The other three students are C, D, and E. Following the cued dialogue on the board, A and B must explain why they would or would not like to be the animal on the card. The other members of the group decide which of the two gave the best reason. The winner keeps the card. The following conversation is an example.

A: "I'd like to be a lion."
C/D/E: "Why?"
A: "If I were a lion, I would be the strongest animal. How about you?"
B: "I wouldn't like to be a lion."
C/D/E: "Why?"
B: "If I were a lion, I would always have to fight. Wouldn't you agree?"
C: "I agree with A."
D: "I agree with A."
E: "I agree with A. A wins. Let's go to the next one."

After the winner is decided, the students rotate roles. Student B becomes A, C becomes B, and so on. Another card is turned up and the game proceeds as before. When all the cards have been turned up, the student with the most cards is declared the overall winner. The students should be encouraged to use the second conditional when explaining their reasons. A time limit can also be used to speed up the game. For example, if the students cannot think of a reason within one minute, they automatically lose.

My Name Is2

Put the students in groups of 6-8 people. Have them play janken (paper, scissors, stone) to decide the order they have to speak in. Review the target "hope" sentence pattern and the corresponding "if" pattern. Put the following on the board:

My name is _____. I hope _______. If ___________, __________.

His name is _____. He hopes _______. If ________, __________.

Her name is _____. She hopes _______. If ________, __________.

Explain that after the first person completes the first sentence, the next student starts by reporting what the first person said, then tells his own name and hopes. Each student continues reporting on what the other students said until the final student reports what all the students said. The team to finish the fastest is declared the winner. Other patterns can be added. At the end, one student from each group comes to the front of the class and introduces the other members of the group and reports their names, hopes, and "if" sentences. This activity can also be used for present and past wishes and their corresponding "if" sentences, as well as for reviewing almost any pattern.

Future Accidents

The teacher puts the following pattern on the board:

If + subject (relative clause) + present tense verb, subject + will/won't/can/can't/might/might not + verb

The teacher hands out copies of a picture that contains several accidents about to happen. Explain that the students must pick 3-4 situations and write a sentence using the above pattern about each of the situations. For example:

1. If the girl who is walking on the sidewalk steps on the banana, she will fall down.
2. If the boy who is crossing the road doesn't look both ways, he will be hit by a car.
3. If the car that is in the left side of the picture turns at the corner, it will hit the boy.

The students can work individually or in small groups. Have them use their imaginations and make a story (following the pattern) about each situation. A minimum of three or four sentences for each situation should be used. After the first sentence, it is not necessary to use relative clause subjects. They must take the result clause from the previous sentence and convert it to the "if" clause of the next sentence. An example for number 1 above would be:

1a. If the girl who is walking on the sidewalk steps on the banana, she will fall down.
1b. If she falls down, she might break her leg.
1c. If she breaks her leg, an ambulance will take her to the hospital.
1d. If she goes to the hospital, she might meet a handsome doctor.
1e. If she meets a handsome doctor, she will fall in love and get married.


Encourage the students to be imaginative and playful in their stories. This activity can be done as a written exercise, but a more interesting variation is to create a game show format in which teams work together to create their stories and the captains report their stories to the teacher. The captains can use the pictures while telling the stories to the teacher, but they can't use the groups' written sentences to read from. Teams that tell their stories quickest get points.

Snakes and Ladders3

For this game you need some dice, markers (coins, pins, erasers, etc.), and copies of a "Snakes and Ladders" game board. I use a B-4 size piece of paper with anywhere from 35 to 70 squares. Half the squares are empty and half have sentences with "hope," "wish," and "if" sentences in them. About half of the sentences should have mistakes in them. These mistaken sentences can either be made up or taken from the students' homework. The board should have some snakes and ladders drawn on it where the snake heads and ladder tops are in a square with a higher number and snake tails and ladder bottoms in a square with a lower number. Divide the class into groups of 4-5 students and give each group a copy of the game board and a die. Write on the blackboard some sentences the students can use while playing the game and interacting. For example:

"I think this sentence is correct."
"I think this sentence is incorrect. It should be (the student's own correction)."
"I agree."
"I disagree."
"It's your turn."
"The snake ate you."
"You get to go up the ladder."
"Sorry, time's up."

Everyone places their markers in the first square. Have the students decide the order in which they play. Explain that the first player to reach the end is the winner. Demonstrate how to play the game. Mario Rinvolucri (1984: 28-29) suggests the following rules:

a. The first player throws the die and advances to the square indicated. If there is a sentence on that square, the player says whether it is correct or incorrect and, in the latter case, tries to correct it. [I have found that a one-minute time limit speeds up the process and adds some excitement] The other players act as jury and have to decide if the player is right or wrong in his or her judgment. If the majority agree with the player, then he or she goes forward three squares. If they disagree, the player moves back three squares. If the player lands on an empty square, none of the above happens and he or she stays there. It is then the next player's turn. A player who lands on a square at the foot of a ladder must go up it. A player who lands on the mouth of a snake must go down it.

b. The winner is the first person whose score takes him or her to or beyond the finish line.

c. If a player lands on a sentence that has already been discussed, he or she automatically goes on to the next unworked-on sentence.

d. If one of the players feels that the others are wrong about a grammar point, he or she should note down the number of its square and ask the teacher at the end of the game.

Once everyone has started, the teacher can walk around giving help with how to play the game, but should not give any answers concerning the correctness or incorrectness of the sentences. Encourage the students to use their own criteria. For lower level groups, it's a good idea to allow them to use their notes from the patterns listed in the "introductory patterns" part of this paper. When most of the groups have finished, have everyone stop playing and ask if there are disagreements over any of the sentences. If so, ask the other groups what they think. Only at the end should the teacher give his or her own corrections.

What Would You Have Done?

Prepare some dilemma stories such as the following two about someone who had to make an important decision.

John got into a taxi. On the seat there was wallet. He picked the wallet up, looked inside, and found $1,000 in cash. There was no identification in the wallet, so he decided to keep the cash for himself. If you had been John, what would you have done? Why?

Jane's best friend started working at the same electronics shop she worked at. One day the best friend stole a camera from the shop. No one saw Janeェfs friend take the camera. One day Jane visited her friend's house and noticed the stolen camera was on a table. If you had been Jane, what would you have done? Why?

Have the students gather together in groups of four to five people. Have them take turns in explaining what they would have done if they had been the person in the dilemma. Make sure they give reasons for their decisions. The students can first be referred to the "type 3 if" patterns described earlier. Have the other students in the group agree or disagree with each student's opinion and reason. The same "type 3 if" pattern can be used to point out weaknesses or alternative possible results from the same action. For example:
A: If I had been John, I would have kept the money too.
B: Why?
A: If I had kept the money, I could have bought something I needed.
B: But if you had kept the money, you would have been just as dishonest as a real robber.

Game Show

This game is best used as a review activity after completing more than one of the units in the introductory exercises section of this paper. Teams of 3-4 students are created with each team choosing one captain. Team members can discuss possible answers, but only the captains can answer for their teams. The team that answers fastest with a correct answer gets a point More points can be awarded depending on the difficulty of the pattern being elicited.

The teacher starts by saying "Give me a future hope sentence." The captains' answers must follow the pattern referred to. Other patterns can include:

1. Future "if"
2. Present wish
3. Present "if"
4. Past wish
5. Past "if with present result
6. Past "if" with past result
7. Present fact/routine "if"
8. Past fact/routine "if"

These patterns can be made more difficult (and worth more points) by requiring that the subject of the various sentences or clauses be singular, plural, or relative clauses.

Conclusion

The teacher should take into consideration student levels when deciding whether to introduce the entire model at once or portions of it separately. Given the limited number of times students and teachers meet in a university school year, there should be no expectation that students will be able to become fluent in the production of the many types of English "if" conditionals. The aim should be directed at exposing the students to more than the traditional three types (see Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1999:545), and equipping them with some basic communicative control over the patterns, as well as the confidence to become more proficient in the future. To this end, Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999) say that acquisition of the English tense-aspect system, the modal auxiliaries, and negation is a prerequisite for ESL/EFL students to acquire the full range of English conditionals.

When introducing the activities outlined in this paper, it is vital for the teacher to create a classroom atmosphere in which students feel comfortable and uninhibited. In addition to the importance of classroom atmosphere, Littlewood (1992) suggests three more conditions for optimum learning: (1) learning must be relevant to the students' interests and needs [talking about "hopes" and "wishes" seems to fulfill this requirement in most cases], (2) processes as well as production are important, and (3) students must perform active roles.

The activities described in this paper are meant to provide illustrations of activity types and how they can be carried out, rather than to be prescriptive lesson plans. I hope the material included here and in the previous paper (Norris, 2003) will be of help to teachers dealing with the problems inherent in the teaching and learning of English "if" conditionals. Any comments, suggestions, or criticism from readers will be welcome and greatly appreciated.

NOTES

1. The idea for "I Would Like to be a ___" comes from Tom and McKay (1991: 63).

2. Adapted from Maley and Duff, 1978: 70.

3. Adapted from Rinvolucri, 1984: 28-32.

APPENDIX

Table 3: Proposed Model for Introducing "If" Sentences

Type
Patterns
Examples
1. Future hope and "if" - I hope + S + pres. (future word)

- If + S + pres. (future word), S + will/might/can + verb (future word)

- I hope the Giants win (tomorrow).

- If the Giants win (tomorrow), I will celebrate (tomorrow).

2. Present wish and "if" - I wish + S + past (now)

- If + S + past (now), S + would/could/might + verb (now)

- I wish I had money (now).

- If I had money (now), I would buy a car (now).

3. Past wish and "if" (a = present result, b = past result) - I wish + S + had + -en (past word)

(a) - If + S + had + -en (past word), S + would/could/ might + verb (now)

- I wish + S + had + -en (past word)

(b) - If + S + had + -en (past word), S + would/could/ might + have + -en (past word)

- I wish I had gone to bed early (last night).

(a) - If I had gone to bed early (last night), I wouldn't be sleepy (now).

- I wish I had gone to bed early (last night).

(b) - If I had gone to bed early (last night), I wouldn't have gotten up late (this morning).

4. Same (parallel verb tenses/modals in both clauses) - If + S + pres./past/past perf./modal, S + (the same verb tense or modal in the "if" clause) - [When] If she washed the dishes (when we lived together), I dried the dishes (when we lived together).

- If their team wins
(tomorrow), our team loses (tomorrow).

- If she can do it, I can do it.

5. Others Various patterns


REFERENCES

Celce-Murcia, M. and D. Larsen-Freeman. 1999. The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course (2nd Edition). New York: Heinle and Heinle.

Littlewood, W. 1992. Teaching Oral Communication: A Methodological Framework. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Maley, A. and A. Duff. 1978. Drama Techniques in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Norris, R. W. 2003. "How Do We Overcome the Difficulties of Teaching Conditionals?" Bulletin of Fukuoka International University, No. 9: 39-50

Rinvolucri, M. 1984. Grammar Games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tom, A. & McKay, H. 1991. The Card Book: Interactive Games and Activities for Language Learners. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.


Copyright (c) 2003-2010. Robert W. Norris. All Rights Reserved