(Originally published in my book Brainstorming. Moscow: Manager, 2001. This is an updated version.)
As with verb tenses, it’s helpful to present one kind of conditional statement at a time (i.e., first, second, third, and mixed conditionals). However, after students demonstrate an understanding of each type, we must then test their ability to use all of them appropriately in situations that force a shift of time frames. Just as we use multiple verb tenses in natural discourse, we also shift easily from one kind of conditional statement to another. Example: “You’d tell me if something were wrong, wouldn’t you?” – “Of course. Trust me. If something goes wrong, you’ll be the first to know.”
What kinds of activities can help students gain comfort in using the different types of conditional statements? Here’s one I call Bank Robbery. I’ve done this activity more than once, and each experience brought forth creativity and laughter.
Level: High intermediate to advanced
Format: Small groups of 3-5 students
Objective: To plan a bank robbery and then discuss its execution
STEP 1 – Hand out the first map of Central Bank. [See photo.] Explain that each group must plan a bank robbery. Each member of the group must play a role in the crime. (The goal is to make a quick, clean steal with no violence.) With highly active students, this step will be completed through free discussion. With less talkative students, each member can take a turn adding on to the group plan or making changes to what has already been said.
STEP 2 – Each group will present their plan to the class. The outline of the plan must include at least one use of the first conditional (real statement in the present or future). You can also challenge them to use the second conditional (unreal statement in the present or future). Model:
- First, two of us will enter through the front door. If we get into a loud, physical argument, we think both guards will come to stop it.
- Then, one of us will enter through a back door and go to the main safe. Our driver will wait on Birch Street, but if we need another person to help carry all the money, he can come inside.
- If we had more time and more people, we would rob the cashiers, too, but we decided only to steal from the main safe.
STEP 3 – Hand out the second map of Central Bank. [See photo.] Explain that the first map they had was outdated and no robbery went according to plan. In their small groups, students need to examine the new map and discuss why their plan failed and/or how their plan could have been improved.
STEP 4 – Each group will voice their regrets to the class. The list of complaints must include at least one use of the third conditional (unreal statement in the past). Award kudos to any group that can use a mixed conditional. Model:
- If we had known there were four guards and not two, we would have found more people to help us rob the bank.
- We could have used the roof to escape if we had noticed it before.
- We wouldn’t be in jail now if we had made a better plan.
- Remind students of the sequence markers they can use in formulating a plan: first, next, (immediately) after that, just before, etc.
- Consider a review of ways to offer suggestions or challenge others’ suggestions: Why don’t we…? I think it would be better to…