3 Activities to Practice “if…would” Statements

During the pandemic, we have all dreamed of doing things that we can’t, like going outside or traveling to see family. But even when COVID-19 restrictions are finally lifted, there will always be activities we can only imagine. Who wouldn’t like to own their own private island or suddenly be able to speak 50 languages fluently?

This month, I’d like to focus on how to express those dreams—and perhaps some less dream-like imaginings—using the conditional with “if…would” statements.

Getting Started

If a lion chased me, I would run! “The Hunt” by Nick Jewell CC-BY-2.0

First, make sure your students understand the difference between real conditions (if…will) and imaginary ones (if…would).  Most of my students know that “if…would” statements are less certain, but their understanding often ends there. Explaining a couple of examples can be helpful.

  1. If a lion chases me, I will run.
  2. If a lion chased me, I would run.

Example A is presented as a real situation, one in which hungry lions are nearby! In “If a lion chased me,” the use of “chased” indicates that the situation is imaginary. What about another example?

  1. If I win the lottery, I will travel to Thailand
  2. If I won the lottery, I would travel to Thailand.

This one is a little more complicated. We know that “If I won” means it is hypothetical, but lottery tickets are much more plentiful than lions. Therefore, it’s also useful to think about it in this way: In case A, I need to have purchased—or plan to purchase—a lottery ticket, while in case B, I am just imagining it.

1. Collaborative Story Building: The IF Story

In the spirit of “fortunately, unfortunately,” students can build a story one conditional statement at a time. Students sit in a circle. The first student gives an imaginary “if…would” statement. The second student starts their “if” statement with the “would” clause from the previous sentence, as shown below.


“The Castle” by capt_tain Tom CC-BY-2.0

Student 1: If I won the lottery, I would have lots of money.

Student 2: If I had lots of money, I would buy a castle.

Student 3: If I bought a castle, I would have parties all the time.

Student 4: If I had parties all the time, the neighbors would complain about the noise.

Student 5: If the neighbors complained about the noise, I would invite them to the party.

Play continues until everyone has contributed.

2. What Would You Do?

In this activity, hypothetical questions come from the instructor. Students should discuss the questions in small groups, answering in full sentences and adding reasons for their choices.

Examples of Questions

  • What would you do if you found a diamond ring on a deserted beach?
  • What would you do if you knew the world would end in 1 week?
  • If you could meet any celebrity, who would it be?
  • What would you do if you won the lottery?
  • If you could become the best at any Olympic sport, which one would you choose?
  • What would you do if you were the ruler of this country?

Once students have discussed their answers to these questions in their groups, they should take a few minutes to create their own questions to ask the other groups in a whole class discussion.

3. Would You Rather?

This game asks students to choose between two good or two bad possibilities. First, you should introduce some examples of questions. For instance,

  • Would you rather be able to fly or to read minds?
  • Would you rather go ziplining or whitewater rafting?
  • Would you rather never watch television again or never read books again?
  • Would you rather eat a live cockroach or a live centipede?
  • Would you rather lose your memory or your vision?

Next, each student writes questions with the same structure to ask their classmates. Be sure to check students’ questions for accuracy and appropriateness. Once everyone has written two to three questions, you can start the activity with students asking and answering popcorn-style. Students should explain their choices as well as answering the questions.

These are a few ways I practice the conditional with my students. Do you have other activities you like to use? Please share them in the comments below.

About A. C. Kemp

A. C. Kemp
A. C. Kemp has been a lecturer in English language studies at MIT since 2007. She has a master’s degree in applied linguistics from the University of Massachusetts/Boston. A. C. has also presented extensively on teaching strategies for vocabulary acquisition. Since 2002, she has been the director of Slang City, a website devoted to American slang and colloquial language. She also has a strong interest in ITA training, for which she created the User-Friendly Classroom Video Series in 2016.
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2 Responses to
3 Activities to Practice “if…would” Statements

  1. A. C. Kemp A. C. Kemp says:

    Hi Sonia. Thanks for your question. I would say that your students succeeded in this game; the idea is to practice conditional on the spot. Like the traditional game “Fortunately, Unfortunately,” the end goal is not to produce a coherent story. In fact, it often veers off into ridiculous tangents. That’s okay! The process is the important part.

  2. Sonia says:

    I have used Collaborative Story Building with If conditionals in my tertiary level language classroom where they wrote sentences following the structure such as if condion,result and from that result another if confitional emerged. But the story has not become at all a story if I read it thoroughly, even without thinking and replicating the definition of a short story. Positive thing is everyone has participated and contributed by producing a conditional sentence like a chain.But it is not a well-read story.What could I do further?

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