Teaching Second Conditionals Through Absurd Sentences

The second conditional (e.g., If I were, I would…) often causes difficulties even for advanced English learners. This fun and interactive activity will help learners practice this structure.

The first part of the activity gives learners a chance to interact with each other by working on a meaningful grammatical task. The second part of the activity adds a humorous component to facilitate their learning (Garner, 2006; Gorham & Christophel, 1990; Wanzer, Frymier, & Irwin, 2009).


  • For group work: handout with if-clauses (see Appendix), small blank cards
  • For class work: PowerPoint slides (or cards) with if-clauses



Before class, prepare PowerPoint slides: one if-clause from the handout per slide. If you don’t use PowerPoint, prepare large cards (everyone in your class should be able to see the card from his or her seat): one if-clause per card.

Group Work

  1. Divide the class into small groups. Depending on the size of your class, the number of the groups can differ. The number of learners in one group should, ideally, range from 3 to 6.
  2. Give each group the handout with the list of if-clauses and a set of blank cards (the number of the cards corresponds with the number of the if-clauses on the handout).
  3. Ask learners to finish each if-clause and write only the end of the sentence on a blank card, for example: for the clause on the handout “If I were hungry…” learners can write on the card “…I would buy myself five hamburgers.” Encourage learners to be creative.

Class Work

  1. When learners are done with the sentences, ask them to shuffle the cards and put them facedown on the desk.
  2. If you are using PowerPoint slides, display one if-clause on the screen. If you are using large cards with if-clauses, place one card on the board so that everyone can see it and read the if-clause aloud. Alternatively, you can ask a student to read the clause aloud.
  3. Each group will have to pick the card from the top of their pile and read the end of the if-clause. For example, you read the clause that says: “If a cashier accidentally gave me too much change…” and learners will finish the sentence by reading the phrase on their card that might have been written for a different if-clause, for example “I would take my dog for a walk”. Picked at random, the clauses may not match and produce funny, bizarre, and even nonsensical sentences. But because the combinations are usually absurd and silly, the sentences should produce laughter from learners.


  1. You can make this activity more exciting for learners by assigning categories to the sentences (e.g., the most realistic, the most bizarre, the most nonsensical) and giving points to the winner of each category.
  2. You can also use this activity for practicing first conditionals. In this case, you will have to revise the if-clauses on the handout and your PowerPoint (or large cards). For example, “If a cashier accidentally gives me too much change…”, learners’ responses will start with “I will…”
  3. Similarly, the activity can be modified for practicing third conditionals, such as “If my friend had given me a Christmas gift…” In this case, you will have to modify the if-clauses on the handout to ensure their meanings would create plausible sentences with third conditionals.


Garner, R. L. (2006). Humor in pedagogy: How ha-ha can lead to aha! College Teaching54(1), 177–180.

Gorham, J., & Christophel, D. M. (1990). The relationship of teachers’ use of humor in the classroom to immediacy and student learning. Communication Education, 39(1), 46–62.

Wanzer, M. B., Frymier, A. B., & Irwin, B. (2009). An explanation of the relationship between teacher humor and student learning: Instructional humor processing theory. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Communication Association.


If-clauses (you can use these examples or create your own):

  • If I were hungry…
  • If a cashier accidentally gave me too much change…
  • If I had a dinner with the president of the United States…
  • If I knew how to speak the language of an animal…
  • If I found a wallet full of money in the street…
  • If I happened to be on a deserted island all by myself…
  • If my friend crashed my car…
  • If I were to fly to Antarctica…
  • If my first date with someone I like failed…
  • If I owned an airplane…
  • If I saw someone stealing from a store…
  • If I lost the ability to speak…
  • If I lived in Paris…
  • If my friend wrongly accused me in lying…


About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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