Fun Activities For The Second Conditional

Stimulating ways to practise the imaginary situations and advice, negotiations and moral dilemmas meanings of the second conditional.

1. Moral Dilemmas
Second conditionals are used in real life to talk about questions like “What would you do if you had to choose between letting a war criminal go free so that he’d stop the war and continuing the war until he could be brought to justice?” Giving students a few questions like this to discuss can be intellectually stimulating and produce a good mix of the second conditional and other language. It can also be designed to fit in with the topics of the book (e.g. environmental moral dilemmas) or with their job or studies (e.g. medical moral dilemmas). They can also make up similar questions to ask each other.

2. Guess My Answer
The Moral Dilemmas activity above can be made more fun by getting students to guess their partners’ answers before they ask the questions. This also works for other meanings of the second conditional such as tentative offers in negotiations. Give students a list of deals such as “If I gave you 1,000 pounds, would you do my washing up for a month?” and get them to guess what their partners will say before they ask the question. They can then make up similar sentences specifically to elicit a particular response, e.g. “Would you give me your wife if I gave you my bicycle?” to obtain a “No, I wouldn’t.”

3. Sentence Completion
Give students at least fifteen second conditional sentence starters such as “If I had four legs” or “If I were the richest person in the world”. They should complete the sentences with their own ideas and then read out just the part they have written (not the sentence stems on the worksheet) for their partners to guess which sentence they wrote it in, e.g. “People would take photos of me all the time” could be written in either of those two example sentence stems above. The sentence stems could also be moral dilemmas, or you could write them to tie the second conditional in with other language points such as feelings (“I would feel _______ if the internet disappeared”) or phrasal verbs (“If _______, I would get on much better with him/her”).

4. Problem Solving
Problems like being stuck on a desert island or having a can of food but no can opener are often used in ELT for practice of “going to” for plans. However, as the students are not really in that situation it is much more natural to ask “What would you do if flood waters cut your house off?” and “What would you do if all electronic communication permanently broke down?” People can then debate which idea is best and/or vote on the best idea.

5. Votes
Voting can also be used in other ways to practise the second conditional. For example, people can present their ideas on what they would do if they were put in charge of the world or if they were given superpowers, and then people can vote for the best. The ideas need to be quite outlandish ones like these, because otherwise the first conditional is a more natural tense to use to present your ideas.

6. Consequences Chains
Students say or write a second conditional sentence about themselves, perhaps using a list of possible sentence stems, e.g. “If I didn’t have this class now, (I’d still be in bed).” The other students say or write the consequences of that action and the consequences of the consequences, e.g. “If you were still in bed now, you’d oversleep and feel groggy when you woke up”, “If you felt groggy when you woke up, you’d drink 3 cups of coffee”, “If you drank three cups of coffee, you’d get chest pains”, etc. They continue until they reach a certain number of steps (usually 8 to 10 is a good number) or come to a natural conclusion.

6. Personality Questionnaires
This is kind of an extension of the moral dilemmas idea above. Students write second conditional questions to test their partners on one personality trait or more, then ask them the questions and judge their answers without telling them what they are being tested on. The people who are answering the questions could then guess the topic(s) and how well they have done before being told the results. For example, for “brave” they could be asked questions like “If you saw that the person sitting next to you had a gun in their belt, what would you do?”

7. If I Were You
Any fun activities on giving advice can be used with second conditional phrases like “If I were you,…”, “If I were in your place,…” and “If I was in your shoes,…”. Possibilities include writing agony aunt letters, giving deliberately bad advice, and guessing the problems from the advice given.

8. If You Answered Me That Way
Students ask each other second conditional questions in the hope of getting specific answers, e.g. “What would you do if you won the national lottery?” to make their partner say “I’d quit my job” or “Under what circumstances would you buy a gun?” to get the reply “If there was a foreign invasion.” The responses that they should get could be given on slips or a worksheet, or they could write down responses for themselves or others to obtain.

Written by Alex Case for September 2011
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.


  • Michael says:

    I get that not everyone is teaching kindergarteners like me – but I am imagining a situation where I am teaching adults and These activities are still totally inappropriate for the class room. What a cringeworthy article.

  • Alex says:

    Sorry, I misspelled – “give in to” rather than “give into”.

  • Alex says:

    Mate, don’t give into these self-righteous Internet Crusaders. The examples are fine, you’re a good teacher, and all of the comments attacking you sound like they were written by miserable human beings who, if teachers, should be taken out of schools post haste lest they poison another generation of children.

  • TheManTheLegend says:

    Shut it, Kathryn!

    Why don’t you do your job, raise kids and be happy with your husband like veryone else?

    Yes, I know what I am talking about. As a man, I have a wife and kids and my goal is just to make it through the day.

    If you are miserable and insufferable, feel free to go somewhere else and leave the normal people alone.

    Great article, fantistic material. Hats off to the author.

  • Kathryn says:

    Hey Alex, how about actually listening to the views of the women who object instead of delivering a pompous, self-righteous response? The premise is that women are a piece of property to be bartered. You could have said ‘husband’ but a. you didn’t and b. it’s different because men have always had different matrimonial rights to women. In fact, news flash – millions of women around the world are STILL owned and controlled by their husbands.

    You clearly aren’t happy to get feedback. As a teacher trainer, I can say that’s the sure sign of a BAD teacher – one who can’t reflect on their own practice and is impervious to the needs/feelings of their students.

  • Olesya says:

    Replace it with ‘mom’ or ‘daughter’ and we’ll see if it’s offensive or not.
    ‘Come on, it’s just a joke! You, girls, are just lacking sense of humour!’

  • Drew says:

    It’s not sexist enough, women need to learn their place at a young age.

  • Monica says:

    Because of people like the ones in these comments we’re still living in a society full of sexism. No, it’s not about having a sense of humour, it’s not about being “wiser” than that, when a sentence, comment, joke, is sexist it is and when someone points it out you should listen. It’s not okay to joke about these things people, you should know, especially if you are teachers. Don’t let future generations keep on making sexist, racist, homophobic jokes just because you think someone must have “sense of humour”. You are disgusting.

  • Dave says:

    What absolute rubbish being upset by a funny comment.. and it isn’t sexist.. it could quite easily be exchanged with husband depending on the speaker. It’s a joke, get over it.
    I’m personally going to use these comments as an example. If I wrote a joke, would you use the sexisty card. If I thought my wife had the same vaule as my bike, I wouldn’t offer it, I wouldn’t want to lose my bike.

  • Sergio Franco says:

    that example is sexist, obnoxious, and derogatory.
    Thanks for the bunch of activities, but that is just unnecessary and I can’t believe you have the nerve to defend using such a stupid example.

    Would you chop you 1 inch willy if I gave your wife a brand new more handsome husband? grow up at 31 you should be more mature

  • Diana Oliva says:

    Really engaging and useful, thank you so much for sharing!! ❤️

  • Kitti says:

    Hi All,

    To the Author of this Article – Thank you very much for sharing your great ideas with other teachers, it is very useful and much appreciated!

    To the Ladies, who feel offended by the seemingly “sexist” joke/example sentence…. – I find it ridiculous that some women lack sense of humor to the extent that they can’t bear to read a sentence like this and laugh…Come on, Ladies, are we not wiser than this!?…

    Nowadays everyone feels offended by EVERYTHING that is said….my advice: Get a grip, honestly….! It’s just a joke….

    When I was a child, I always found these “sexist” jokes funny and I still do at the age of 31! The reason why? It is because I am confident enough in myself as a woman, not to be offended by an innocent joke like this one, for example.

    Instead of taking it personal, rather have a laugh and don’t waste your energy for “attacking” someone, who has taken his time and effort to share ideas with fellow teachers for free! Surely, it was not their intention to offend Women!

    Lovely Ladies & Gents! Please allow me to share with you a quote that really hits the nail in the head:

    “It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor.” (Max Eastman)

    Enjoy your day & Take it Easy! 🙂

  • alice says:

    How could you connect the second conditionals to a production (free) activity? for a lesson.

  • Flavia Helena says:

    teachers, come on!!! He perfectly answered your indignation in his comments, if you only bothered to read it! Cheers!

  • Catherine H says:

    Comments on the wife issue are ok, but not one person has said anything about “buying a gun” which, in my book, is REALLY REALLY serious! Ha Ha Ha

  • MuffinTop says:

    This is amusing.

  • Alex Case says:

    I’m always happy to get feedback on my articles (even seven years after they are published), but I’m afraid these comments don’t make any sense. In the article the phrase is given as a way of being sure to get the response “No, I wouldn’t”, meaning that the (imaginary) student is showing exactly the same contempt for such a ridiculous idea as the commenters seem to have. You could argue that it would be like a typical 1970s sexist joke if it was “Would you give me your bicycle if I gave you my wife?” (but even then I would say that the idea is so ridiculous and made far from reality due to use of the second conditional that it is hardly likely to make anyone consider such a thing in real life). As it is, it has the complete opposite meaning and effect. If you really think that it still needs to be censored, perhaps you also think that Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge needs to be banned as some kind of advertisement for wife selling (whereas it is clearly the complete opposite of that).

  • Hilary says:

    I would like to second Debalina’s comment above. Can you please replace this example with something less insulting to women.

  • Debalina says:

    “would you GIVE ME YOUR WIFE if i gave you my bicycle?”

    Really? How do you even have an example like that in a lesson plan? Sincerely urge you to stop thinking of women in general, and more specifically your own wife, as a commodity and/or your personal property who can be bartered.

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