Four Ps of the Future: An activity to teach the uses of future tenses

Students need to know when either will or going to is appropriate and when circumstances give preference to one construction over the other. Consider the following activity.

STEP 1 – Compose 8-10 sentence pairs (statement and reply) modeling the use of will and going to for plans, promises, predictions, and pleas (i.e. requests). You can tailor the content to your students’ age group and interests. Make some pairs similar in content to force students to think about a difference in meaning between will and going to. Some suggestions:

  1. Do you have any plans for tonight? – Yes, we’re going to meet my in-laws for dinner.
  2. Are you free tonight? – Yes, but if my in-laws call at the last minute, which they might, we’ll have to meet them for dinner.
  3. Do you have plans for tomorrow? – Yes, after work tomorrow I’m going to help my aunt set up her new computer.
  4. Aunt Sue needs help setting up her new computer. – I’ll help her. I can do it tomorrow.
  5. The Yankees are playing well tonight. – Yes, I think they’re going to win.
  6. It’s growing colder, isn’t it? – Yes, they say it’s going to snow tonight.
  7. Why can’t I park here? – You can, but they’ll give you a ticket if you park for more than 10 minutes.
  8. Our neighbors have been really noisy lately. – I know, but I’m not comfortable saying anything. Will you talk to them?
  9. I’m going to find a way to stop our neighbors from making so much noise. – What are you going to do?

STEP 2 – Mix up the sentence pairs and write them in two columns either on the board or on a handout. [four-ps-of-the-future_handout] Students can work alone or with a partner to choose the most appropriate match for each item.

Plans: a, b, c, d,STEP 3 – Before correcting the matches, ask the class to identify the replies according to their purpose: state a plan, make a promise, make prediction, make a plea (request). Note that these commons uses of the future tenses are easier to remember by thinking of “the 4 Ps,” but of course there is a difference in intensity between a plea and a request.

Promises: h

Predictions: e, f, i

Pleas (requests): g


STEP 4 – Have volunteers read the matches one at a time. For each item, allow students to explain the correct match to those who failed to select the correct reply. Having identified the purpose of each reply, it should be easier to clarify the most appropriate choice. As correct matches are read aloud, begin to form a summary of purposes on the board. Model:

Plans: Use will or going to. BUT if already decided: going to. If made at the time of speaking: will.

Promises: Usually will.

Predictions: Use will or going to. BUT if based on evidence: going to. Also, will is more common in the result clause of conditional statements.

Pleas (requests): Use will to ask for a favor.  Will you… (please)?

SUGGESTION: As a follow-up activity, you could have students work in pairs to create a dialog that includes at least one example of each purpose: a plan, a promise, a prediction, and a plea (request). They can use one of the sentence pairs as the basis:

A: Why can’t I park here?

B: You can, but they’ll give you a ticket if you park for more than 10 minutes.

A: It will be okay. I’m going to run into the store to buy a newspaper, and I’ll be back in a minute. I promise.

B: Will you leave the keys? I can move the car if they start to write a ticket.

A: Okay.


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