Teaching the second conditional can be a lot of fun if taught in an engaging way. This lesson plan will involve videos, songs, explanations, and exercises to ensure that your students know how to use the second conditional and when to use it.
Approaching and Introducing the Second Conditional
Please note: I teach one-to-one online and, on the whole, teach grammar when the need naturally arises during a lesson. The following plan is not a rigid one, can be stretched out over several lessons, and is based on how I teach; but, it can be adapted for different teaching situations. Use what you feel is necessary, and adapt and improve on everything here.
Usually, the need to teach the second conditional comes about during conversation, something like this:
Me: So, what did you do yesterday?
Student: I was really busy yesterday.
Me: Are you normally busy?
Me: If you had more free time, how would you spend it?
How I use from the following materials and suggestions all depends on how my student deals that question.
If you want to introduce the second conditional specifically (for example, for an exam, or if you know that your student(s) don’t use it properly), you can talk about the lottery and use the first video (see below). Here are a couple of questions that you can ask that lead into the key question:
- “Do you play the lottery?” -> follow up questions.
- “How much money can you win playing the lottery?” -> followup questions.
Have a little conversation about this, and then ask the key question:
- “If you won the lottery, what would you buy?”
It is the question that most students are familiar with when it comes to the second conditional, and usually they can answer this one. When they can’t answer this, they usually understand the concept behind it.
If not, go through the different forms used (if + past simple, would | would + if past simple) and that they can be reversible. For example:
- If I won the lottery, I would buy a new car
- I would buy a new car if I won the lottery.
Now it’s time to talk about when it can be used before going into more examples.
When to use it
The next stage is to explain when the second conditional can be used: for imaginary / unreal situations. From the first example, winning the lottery is an unreal situation, therefore, we use the second conditional (with would) to talk about what we would do if that situation were true.
The if clause uses the past simple. At this point, I usually ask my student to complete some sentences, and here are some examples:
- If I had more time, I…
- I would be really happy if…
- If I could travel anywhere in the world, I..
Try and think about more questions that are specific to your students and correct where necessary.
Introduce a video
Now is a great time to introduce a song (or this can be used as a warm up along with the talk about the lottery). The following song by the Barenaked Ladies, fits perfectly with this lesson plan. It’s called, “If I had a Million Dollars.”
After your student has watched the video, go over some of the lyrics. But first, introduce the contracted form used in the song (I’d = I would). A good way to lead into this is to ask your students if they noticed the contracted form, or by asking them to look out for it before the video.
Next ask, “What would the singer of the song buy or do if he had a million dollars?” There are lots of examples in the video, including: a house, a car (K-Car), a tree-fort (with a fridge), a fur coat (not a real one), an exotic pet (llama or emu), John Merrick’s remains, crazy elephant bones, your love, expensive ketchups, art, and a monkey.
Some good conversations can result from this video.
How it is used for advice and was -> were
After you have gone through the video, put the following into Skype or on the board:
- If I _______ President, I would…
Most make the mistake here of putting in was instead of were. Show your students that was -> were when using the second conditional. This is great to lead into the next use of the second conditional: Using it for advice; here is an example:
- I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
At this stage I usually explain that this can be used for advice, similar to using should. I then put some problems into Skype and ask my students to answer them starting with, If I were you..
Use problems that are specific to your student, but some general ones are relationship problems (“I think my boyfriend is cheating on me.”) or work problems (“I need a pay rise.”) I then go on to explain that in most situations, the if clause (if I were you) is omitted.
Using ‘could’ and ‘might’ instead of ‘would’
I also like to point out that we can use could and might in place of would. To do this, I give my students the following sentences and ask them to explain the difference.
- If I had more time, I could start learning the guitar.
- If I had more time, I would start learning the guitar.
Do the same with other sentences that are specific to the student.
A little practice
This can be done at anytime during the lesson, but it is a good idea to just do a few exercises to make sure that your students understand how to form the second conditional. The following questions can be done in class.
I always ask my students to read out the sentences instead of writing them out. These can also be given for homework. I then try and ask similar questions related to my student after each question.
Comparison with the first conditional
Depending on what you have already taught, or what the student already knows, you can go into the comparison between the first and second conditionals. The best way to do this is firstly show some examples of the first conditional, explaining that this is used for real situations, and then show them the following sentences, asking what makes them different.
- If I won the lottery, I’d buy a car.
- If I win the lottery tonight, I’ll buy a car tomorrow.
In the second sentence, the person has a ticket and is playing the lottery, while in the first example, the person is imagining what it would be like to win the lottery.
Comparisons with the third conditional and wish
Going through the third conditional is perfect after the second conditional. I actually think the best time to introduce this conditional is after reviewing the second conditional in a separate class. (Third Conditional lesson plan to come).
Also, it is really beneficial to introduce the verb wish and how this is related to the second conditional. The following will show this:
- I wish I had more time. If I had more time, I could do so much more.
- I wish we had more money. If we had more money, we could go on vacation this year.
- I wish it wasn’t raining, then we could go to the beach.
Explain how this relates to the 2nd conditional and that we use wish when we want a change of circumstance.
Further videos and homework
For homework, I usually give a couple more videos and set a writing exercise. The first video is an interview with different people asking them what they would buy if they won the lottery, and the second video has lots of songs that use the second conditional:
For homework, you can give the above videos, more exercises, and ask your students to write some sentences using the second conditional and wish.
Problems with pronunciation
A lot of students have problems with pronouncing would and it sometimes sounds like they are saying good. To get around this problem I ask my students to say the following words:
Usually the problem isn’t the w sound, but confusion about how would is pronounced. Practice the difference between would and good until your students can say them both clearly.
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