Here's an effective way to teach the third conditional to your ESL students.

1. First, write a short story (a few paragraphs is fine) about someone who had a bad day. The first paragraph could start something like this:

Sarah had to be at the airport for her flight at 9am, but her alarm didn't go off and so she overslept...

With this example you could continue to talk about Sarah's travel problems as the day progressed. Maybe she forgot her passport and had to rush back home to get it, which made her miss her flight, and so on. The key is to create a problem in each paragraph and describe what happened as a result.

2. Once you've got your story, cut it up into paragraphs and you're ready to go. Pre-teach any vocabulary you need to and divide your students into pairs or small groups. Then hand out the story and ask the students to put the paragraphs into the correct order.

3. When everyone has ordered the story correctly, ask your students if Sarah (we'll use the example from above) had a good or a bad day. (They should of course say "bad"!) Ask one pair to tell you Sarah's first problem and write it on the board. Then go from pair to pair and elicit the other problems. When you've got them all on the board, ask pairs what the result of each problem was, and write these next to their corresponding problems.

So now, on the board, you might have something like this:

Her alarm didn't go off – she overslept

She forgot her passport – she missed her flight

and so on. Leave some space under each one for the next step.

4. Tell students they are now going to imagine that Sarah had a good day. Ask one pair to tell you the opposite of the first problem-result, and write this underneath it:

A Her alarm didn't go off – she overslept.

B Her alarm went off - she didn't oversleep.

To clarify that sentence A is the "real" past, ask students which sentence really happened in the story, and which we are just imagining.

Now draw their attention to sentence B. Reinforce once again that this is imagining a diffferent past, and ask them how they would express this idea in a sentence beginning with "If..." You may have a more advanced student who gives you the correct third conditional sentence. If not, tell them, and write it on the board under sentence B so that they can see the connection with the imaginary situation:

A Her alarm didn't go off – she overslept.

B Her alarm went off - she didn't oversleep.

If her alarm had gone off, she wouldn't have overslept.

Highlight the form: Past Perfect + Would(n't) have + Past participle.

5. Go through one or two more examples on the board, and then ask students to try the remaining problems themselves. Be sure to get feedback to check they are forming the third conditional correctly.

6. Now it's time for some practice. We often use the third conditional to express regret, and this makes a good context for a communicative activity. Model it first: Tell the class you are going to talk about a few regrets you've had in your life (you can make them up if you want!), and you would like them to note them down.

For example:

I regret not studying French. If I'd studied French, I would have worked in Paris.

Ask individual students to report back your regrets to you, reconstructing the third conditional sentences correctly.

Now give students a few minutes to think of some regrets of their own (tell them they can make them up if they are not comfortable talking about their past). Put students into pairs and have them tell each other their regrets. Make sure you monitor well here to ensure correct use of the third conditional as it comes up.

Students then report back to the class about their partners' regrets. You can develop some into a discussion if you like, but make sure you don't have a full-on discussion about any regrets which could be sensitive for the student concerned.

  1. Randall Meisner October 29, 2016 at 3:06 AM  

    Possible reviews have been well placed out here and hopefully the ideas will help students to bring around all those instances which they must needed to observe. sop format