Wish/If only lesson plan: unreal present and past

This is an idea for a lesson discussing the use of wish/if only to talk about unreal present and past. As this tends to be a tricky grammar point, I decided to move away from coursebook tables in favour of a more deductive approach using a Prezi presentation. My students responded really well to this visual way of presenting information and the fact they were the ones responsible for discovering the grammar rules made them more alert and engaged.

The Task

Students need to come up with the rules for wish / if only referring to both past and present. Then, working in groups or individually invent captions for two pictures.

Start by going through the presentation to elicit the rules, show the structure, set some context, and encourage your students to offer more alternatives for each photo. Make sure they clearly understand the grammar and know what tenses to use with wish/if only when talking about unreal present and past.

a) wish/if only + Past Simple to talk about unreal present situations (the bride)

b) wish/if only + Past Perfect to talk about unreal past situations (the man at the office)

c) wish/if only + would + infinitive to talk about out wishes regarding somebody else’s behaviour or actions (the girls and her mother)

Then, it is their time to practice. Monitor your students closely and provide some time at the end of the class to compare their answers and choose the most interesting / the funniest ones.

To follow up, you might ask your students to come up with sentences expressing their wishes about real/imaginary situations from the present and past. Is there something they are not happy with right now and they wish it was different? Any wishes regarding their past? Personalising the language makes it easier for the students to remember and use it in context, so I always encourage my students to think how the grammar point we are studying applies to their own lives.

For another grammar activity focusing on unreal past see this video class lesson plan where we talk about regrets.

Personal Experience 

Having my students discover the rules for themselves worked great, they were glad to skip the traditional “Now I’m going to tell you how wish works”. Also, they came up with some hilarious sentences describing the photos. It was definitely a good idea to use the presentation. It proved to be quite refreshing and visually appealing, which usually increases students’ motivation.




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