3rd conditional – lesson plan

This is a lesson plan I’ve used a couple of times (the first one was during my DELTA), and which I’ve recently reused and adopted to my current teaching context. It makes use both of dictogloss and guided discovery. I blogged on some of the advantages of the former here.

I’d like to make this post as practical as possible, so I won’t get into the pros and cons of using dictogloss and guided discovery here. However, it’s something I’ll definitely blog about in a future post.

If you’ve never used a dictogloss before, here’s how I normally use it:

  • set the context and spark interest (e.g. my dictogloss is about a terrible day, so I might come in to the class looking gutted and sit quietly until somebody asks me: what’s the matter? – gestures, facial expressions, realia – all are great to get student’s attention)
  • set a gist task – try to make it authentic (e.g. in my case I might ask: why am I sad?)
  • set reconstruction tasks – students listen again; when finished they write down individual words they remember from the story; check in pairs and repeat the task again
  • students add in the missing grammar and try to recreate the story
  • compare with the original to notice the language gap – you could distribute copies of the original to pairs, or do it as a whole class
  • students query about the target language, at which point you distribute the guided discovery

The dictogloss I used:

It was a disastrous day. First I got up late. I might have still got to class on time if I’d found my house keys right away. When I got on the bike and started cycling, I realised I’d forgotten the register. If I’d packed my bag the night before, this wouldn’t have happened. And when I looked at my phone to call my student I’d be late, there was a message cancelling the class. I could have stayed in bed if he had let me know!”

IDEA: if possible, use a real situation and context (this didn’t all exactly happen to me on one day, but at different instances, so as a story, it’s quite plausible).

IDEA 2: make it as short as possible and avoid language your students might not know (the focus is on conditionals rather than let’s say phrasal verbs) – it will only divert their attention during the reconstruction phase.

Guided discovery:

Look at the three sentences below which were taken from the story. In pairs answer the questions below each of them.
  1. I might have still got to class on time if I’d found my house keys right away.
  2. Did I get to class on time? Did I find my keys right away? Was it probable or certain to get to class on time?
  3. If I’d packed my bag the night before, this wouldn’t have happened.
  • Did I pack my bag the night before? Did this all happen? Was it probable or certain to avoid the problems?
  • I could have stayed in bed if he had let me know!
  • Did I stay in bed? Did he let me know?
Answer these questions:
  • Are these sentences about the past, the future or the present?
  • Do they talk about real or unreal/imaginary/hypothetical situations?
  • Which modal verb expresses probability: could, would or might?
  • Which modal verb expresses ability: could, would or might?
  • Which modal verb expresses certainty: could, would or might?
Circle the correct word or phrase to complete the rules.
We use the third conditional to talk about hypothetical/real situations in the present/past. Instead of would have we can also use might have/could have to mean I would have been able to; and might have/could have to mean I probably would have.

The third conditional is composed of two clauses or sentences: the if clause and the conditional clause.

Below write the correct form of the two clauses based on the example sentences at the top of the page.

If clause:

Conditional clause:

Which clause comes first? Is the order important?

Controlled practice: Put the words together in order to make third conditional sentences. Remember NOT to use would in the if clause.

IDEA: do it as a race – cut up to strips of paper set up around the room, students in pairs (one writing, one running) try to do the task as quickly as they can

IDEA 2: mingle and flash (with a weaker group do it after they’ve had a chance to solve all the sentences) – each student gets one sentence from below and writes the answer on the other side of the paper; students mingle and flash the sentences at each other trying to give the correct answer to their partner’s example; ask students to peer correct

IDEA 3: after the students have finished the initial task, put them in pairs or groups; a student says the beginning of a sentence from below (e.g. I took the taxi and it was very slow), while the others respond with a third conditional sentence

IDEA 4: with a 1-1 student I cut the examples up, so that the student would do one at a time (seeing all ten might seem quite daunting and presumably discouraging)


She didn’t catch the bus and as a result she was late. If/he/catch the bus/he/not be/late

If he had caught the bus, he would not have been late.

  1. Kate became an English teacher because she went to university. If/Kate/not study English in university/she/not become an English teacher (probability).
  2. I took the taxi and it was very slow. I/get to work quicker/if/not take the taxi.
  3. James didn’t survive the accident. If/James/wear the seatbelt/he/survive the accident (probability).
  4. I didn’t see her. I/say hello/if/I/see/her.
  5. She met James because she went out. If/she/not go out/she/not meet James (probability)
  6. I’m sorry for not sending you a postcard but I didn’t have your address. If/I/have/your address/I/send you a postcard. (ability)
  7. She wasn’t on time because she got up late. She/be on time/if/she/not get up so late (probability)
  8. Usain Bolt made a false start and was disqualified. If/Usain Bolt/make a false start this World Championships/he/win the 100m race. (ability)
  9. We didn’t train hard enough and so we didn’t win the competition. We/win/the competition/if/we/train harder.
  10. She didn’t study because she didn’t know about the test. If/she/know about the test/she/study more.

Free practice: you have several options here, but some suggestions that might work are:

  • prepare their own story about a disastrous day – in pairs students tel each other and suggest what might/could/would have happened if
  • important events in the past – students prepare a timeline and talk to each other about what might/could/would have happened if they’d made different decisions in life (point out that both events should be in the past, unless you want your students to start coming out with mixed conditionals
  • alternative lives – students choose some celebrities they know well and talk about how their lives might/could/would have been different if (again, same word of warning as above)
  • important inventions/historical events – students speculate how the past might/could/would have been different if

If you have any ideas or comments, let me know – I’d love to hear from you.

4 thoughts on “3rd conditional – lesson plan

  1. Marek,

    I love it! It was easy to understand and interesting as well.

    By the way, I went through the same thing with my students and I had to laugh when you told the story.



  2. Hi I have stumbled upon your bog, would like to know if you maybe have a lesson on first conditional in a ppp lesson plan to see how it all works together in action

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