Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Conditionals lesson for ELLs

This is a paper/lesson plan we did in our language analysis class. Conditionals can be really fun! Enjoy!

Grammar/topic: Present Unreal Conditional (with review/practice with Future Real Conditional)
Level: Intermediate to advanced
Present Unreal Conditional Background: This structure is created by the use of a dependent if clause (if, unless) with the verb in the simple past and an independent result clause with the auxiliary verb in the past modal form (would, could, might, etc.). We use this tense to describe something imaginary that is impossible in the present (If Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at my graduation, I would be so honored.) or something that isn’t realistic at the moment, but isn’t impossible for the future (If I knew more about biology, I might understand more about the life cycle of brown bears.)

One exception in this structure is that the verb “to be,” when used in the if clause, is always used as “were,” no matter who the subject is (I, He, She, they, it, etc.). This can also cause confusion for a language learner, and is, in fact, frequently misused by native speakers—even those with a high level of education. For example, the question, “What would you do if you were filthy rich?” should be answered with “If I were filthy rich, I would build a huge open-air house on Kuta Beach in Bali and donate a million dollars to the Food Bank.” However, many people use the expression “If I was…”

One other important feature is that the order of the clauses does not make a difference; that is; one can say:

a) If Juanita and Ana called me to meet them at the Roxy Club, I would definitely go.
b) I would definitely go if Juanita and Ana called me to meet them at the Roxy Club.

Future Real Conditional Background: This structure is created by the use of a dependent if or when clause (if, unless) with the verb in the simple present and an independent result clause with the auxiliary verb in the future/present modal form (will, can, may, should, etc.). We use this tense to describe something expected in the near future: (When Mr. Yon returns from the bank, we will remind him about the payroll.) or something that is probable (If Ying passes her comps, she may move back to Hong Kong.) or a habitual truth (If the pollen count is high, I will sneeze all day long.)

These structures may be difficult for ELLs because: a) we are using the past to talk about the present, b) the verb “to be” is unusually created in this structure, c) learners need to have a good grasp of modals first (will, may, might, could, would, etc.), and d) it is created by putting two clauses together (independent + subordinate=complex syntax). Page545, ch. 27. Also, we rarely teach the habitual/factual conditionals (If you cut me, I will bleed.), even though they are very common.

Practice 1 (pair work): Make the sentence with If or Unless

a. You do not live in France. You do not eat escargot.
b. You have a newborn baby at home. You don’t go out very much.
c. Your family lives in another city. You only have the opportunity to see them about four times a year.
d. Janette will stop by your house this afternoon. You have a birthday present for her.
e. Your friend Mei Lin rides to the park every Sunday. She is in great shape. (negative)
f. Anita lives in Mexico City. She doesn’t call you very often because it is so expensive.
g. Your neighbor, Khon, hates mushrooms. You never cook any dishes with mushrooms for him.
h. Anna Sylvia plays the drums. She does not play in a band.

Practice 2 (whole class work): Scenarios—What would/will you do?
a. Tomorrow, Konstantin will pay you back the $100.00 he owes you. You have an $88.00 electric bill that is due on Friday.
b. Your flight to Chicago has been delayed for four hours. You are hungry, but there is no restaurant at the
c. I do not know how to swim. There is a beautiful pool with manmade waterfalls in my apartment complex.
d. You are entering a karaoke contest tomorrow night. You have practiced really hard. The prize is $500.00.
e. Your best friend is planning to visit you in San Antonio this weekend. He has been to San Antonio a few times before, and he doesn’t want to see the Riverwalk again. Where will you take him?
f. You are scheduled to fly out to New York tomorrow morning for a teaching conference. There is a snow storm moving in tonight.
g. You have class tomorrow night and a big project is due. Your colleague has just invited you to a party.
h. Your favorite sport is soccer. San Antonio is trying to get a (professional) Major League Soccer team to move here.

Practice 3 (small groups): Worst-case scenarios
(Teacher chooses various examples from the website: http://www.worstcasescenarios.com/mainpage.htm )
They read and decipher scenario as a group; teacher helps with vocabulary questions; students then prepare and give short presentation.

Practice 4 (whole class, either in a circle or throwing a ball to designate a turn): Conditional chain activity for “to be”
Teacher starts chain with one sentence. Then next student uses second half of first sentence to build second sentence. For example: 1) If George Carlin were our English teacher, he would make us laugh in class every day. 2) If we laughed in class every day, we would enjoy that class. 3) If we enjoyed English class, we’d pay attention in class. 4) If we paid attention in class, we might learn more…

Practice 5: Songs with “if clauses”
Examples include: Hannah Montana (for kids) If We Were a Movie (for kids): “ If we were a movie/ You'd be the right guy/ And I'd be the best friend/ That you'd fall in love with/ In the end” and Alison Krauss (for adults) If I didn’t know any better: “Your heart is pullin'/ If I didn't know any better/ I'd be fallin'/ Deeper and deeper it's true”
*If it is an advanced group, have them read the words to John Lennon’s Imagine and contemplate the meanings, then write out as much of the song as possible using If, When, or Unless clauses. If there is no stated conclusion, have them come up with one.

Grammar book structure treatment critique:
A) Greenbaum, S. & Nelson, G. (2002). An introduction to English
. Great Britain. Pearson Education Limited.
This book provides a thorough overview of grammar, covering a huge number of grammatical points. It provides short and clear explanations (with examples) of how the structure is formed, and when and why it is used. It is a good reference book for an ESL/EFL teacher or student, but it would be just a reference book, as it does not provide activities or suggestions for activities; it merely presents the structures. The conditionals are presented as “Past and past subjunctive.” The authors describe the variations on the present and past unreal conditional as something “very unlikely or contrary to the facts,” but do not cover the future real concept. Therefore, I think it is incomplete. One thing I do like is that the authors discuss the descriptive and prescriptive uses of the past subjunctive of the verb “be,” telling the reader that it is correct to use “were” and that “In less formal style, the simple past was is generally used…(p. 155).” Overall, this book is primarily a reference source (pp. 63-64, 154-155).

B) Jackson, H. (2002). Grammar and vocabulary: A resource book for students. New York, N.Y. Routledge.
This book approaches grammar from a different perspective than what is out there for students; that is, Jackson presents and analyzes English grammar in paragraph format rather than with the paradigm and step-by-step structure, describing the underlying meaning and uses of the given structure. It is very detailed and gives the student the whole story behind a concept, including the linguistic research and exploration of the concept. It seems to be at a higher level than the majority of ELLs and they might find it frustrating not to have the structure rules laid out more clearly. However, it may appeal to reflective learners who like to look at things in depth. It seems to be made for native English speakers. This book only treats the conditional as part of the chapter on clauses, particularly the if clause as a subordinate clause, without presenting the rules of the conditional structures, so it is not very valuable for studying/teaching this concept (pp.22-23).

C) http://esl.about.com/library/grammar/blconditionals.htm
This website provides a structural layout of how to form the future real, present unreal, and past unreal conditionals. It gives an explanation of when and how to form this structure with a chart. The chart and explanations are followed by an interactive quiz practicing the forms. This is helpful for self-study or review, but in and of itself is not a sufficient tool for learning.

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