What types of exercises can help your students wrap their heads around more complex conditional structures they often encounter when preparing to exams (B2 and C1)? Keep reading to find out.
Recently my C1 group and I were looking at some more complex conditional structures:
- If it hadn’t been for your help, I wouldn’t have been able to quit gambling.
- Had it not been for your help, I would not have been able to quit gambling.
- But for your help, I wouldn’t be able to quit gambling.
- Were it not for my dog Buster, I think I’d be quite lonely.
- I think I’d be quite lonely if it weren’t for my dog, Buster.
Source: Destination C1-C2
Even though my students didn’t have much trouble memorizing the form and understanding the use, they openly admitted these structures looked weird and they didn’t see any actual context for them to be used. In order to remedy that and see whether it was possible to incorporate this new grammar into some meaningful utterances, I came up with the exercise ideas below.
#1 Award acceptance speeches
Given that the 2019 Oscars ceremony has just taken place, this was the first thought that came to my mind. Although I don’t think Lady Gaga or Rami Malek necessarily used any of the structures above, they easily could have 😉
First, elicit some occasions when people give acceptance/ thank you speeches (movie/music awards ceremonies, graduation days, the wedding).
Then, elicit what people getting the award usually thank for (support, faith, patience, love, help) and who they thank to (parents, friends, siblings, wives, husbands, managers, teachers) You can elicit orally or ask students to compile such lists together and then compare with the whole class.
Now, ask your students to imagine a situation when they are publicly thanking somebody. They need to write a draft of the speech choosing 3 conditional structures from you have discussed in class. They may work alone or in pairs. Allow plenty of time for them to choose the language and combine it with suitable grammar.
When the speeches are ready ask students to give them either in front of the whole group or smaller groups of students. Those listening should try to identify the occasion for which the speech was written and write down the examples of target conditional structures used. Then, they can discuss whether the speech would be well received, give justice to the people mentioned in it etc. Some changes and corrections might be made if the group identify some language problems.
Typically the speeches might contain such sentences as:
- I would have never got that role if it hadn’t been for my parents’ encouragement.
- Were it not for my manager’s support I wouldn’t be here now accepting this award.
- I would like to thank my parents because if it hadn’t been for their patience and financial support I would have never been able to organise this lovely wedding.
#2 Lifesavers: a survivor’s tale
Conditional structures will fit well into the tale of someone who managed to survive a potentially deadly situation against all odds. An image of Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland in Cast Away might serve as a good opener for this activity as you need to elicit the word survivor. Quickly retelling the story of Chuck’s plane crash and subsequent life on a desert island might help model the language:
Chuck wouldn’t have survived it if hadn’t been for:
- his strong motivation to go back home to his fiancee
- his friendship with Wilson
- his creativity
- having some luck and finding some FedEx packages containing objects he used as tools at first
Chuck wouldn’t have survived on the desert island.
Now, tell your students they are going to get into the roles of people who survived seemingly impossible situations.
Here are three role cards:
You might use them to assign students roles in this activity. It might be worth mentioning to your students that situations 2 and 3 are based on actual events ( Steven Callahan and Rucky Megee respectively).
Students might work together or on their own. Their task is to prepare the answer to the first question the would be asked in their respective programme:
How did you manage to get out alive?
They should come up with a bit of a backstory to share with the listeners and explain how they survived their ordeal: was it their actions, some objects or people that helped them? Remind them they are supposed to share their stories publicly so they should make them as interesting and dramatic as possible yet believable.
It is a good idea for the students to Google the images they associate with the story in order to get a better idea of what their character was up against.
Draw their attention to the Chuck Noland’s conditional sentences and ask to use their imagination and common sense. They may take notes but should keep them brief (not a writing activity). When the students are ready they share their stories with others.
Alternatively, you can ask students who were assigned the same role to get together and combine their stories into one, choosing the best bits of both, before they share it with the rest.
Once all the stories are revealed, you might discuss which one was:
- the most believable
- the most breathtaking
- the scariest
- the most dramatic
- the most touching etc.
#3 … if it hadn’t been for love
Those who doubt whether conditional structures are ever used by actual people might be convinced once they are reminded of this song by Adele (originally by Steel Drivers). You can read the interpretation of the lyrics here.
You might start this activity by asking your students to read the lyrics (or ask groups of students to read different verses to streamline the process) and then answer the questions: What are 3 crazy things the narrator in the song did for love? The answers include: they hitchhiked to Birmingham. They caught a train to Louisiana. They ran through the blinding rain. They put herself behind a jailhouse door. They loaded up a forty-four (gun).
Now the students are supposed to contribute more verses to this song but using various POVs.
POV #1: a 99-year-old reminiscing about her 9 marriages
E.g.: Never would have met my third husband if it hadn’t been for my job.
POV#2: A politician who was removed from the office because of the corruption scandal
E.g.: Never would have got caught it if hadn’t been for the tap on my phone.
POV#3: A pop singer who was selected to represent his country in the Eurovision contest and lost
E.g.: Never would have lost if it hadn’t been for the microphone problems.
POV#4: A film director who won an Oscar for a film based on his childhood
E.g.: Never would have got the idea for this one if it hadn’t been for my family drama.
You might assign the roles or give an example of a POV, model the lyric together, and then ask students to come up with more POVs. Their sentences don’t need to fit the melody but have to make sense and be grammatically correct.
Alternatively, students come up with a sentence and the rest of the group should guess what POV it had been written from.