Okay, here’s a question that I’m sure many teachers can identify with…
How can I make students really understand, and remember, that the second conditional is not talking about the past?! I’ve often thought that they have it, only to review it the next day, or the next week, or at the end of the course, to find that they haven’t got it at all.
The problem seems to be that it’s difficult to conceptualise the use of the past tense to talk about something other than the past. First conditional is rarely a problem, but second conditional…
If anyone has any good ideas, I’ll be eternally grateful!
Thanks in anticipation, jez
If students are having problems conceptualising the fact that second conditional is not talking about the past, I usually do it like this:
1 Write two sentences on the board:
It rains at the weekend
A tiger walks into this room
2 Ask the students if these sentences are talking about the past or the future.
3 Once you’ve established that we’re talking about the future, ask the students if these situations are likely or unlikely to happen. (If they’re unsure about the meaning of likely/unlikely, use \"probably will happen/probably won’t happen\").
4 Now you should have established that both sentences are talking aout the future, and that the only difference is that the first one is likely, the second one unlikely. (You might want to use a different first sentence if you’re in the middle of summer in a dry country!! – as long as it’s likely to happen, any sentence will do)
5 Now ask the students to imagine what they will do in these situations (\"stay at home\", \"jump out the window\" for example)
6 Now see if they can make a conditional sentence for each one.
\"If it rains at the weekend I will stay at home\"
\"If a tiger walked into the room I would jump out the window\"
The important thing is to keep reinforcing this:
BOTH situations are possible
BOTH situations are talking about the future
The ONLY difference between the two sentences is that the first situation is likely to happen, the second one unlikely. (Of course this is a simplification, but remember what you’re trying to achieve – you’re not trying to teach all the nuances of the two forms, just the fact that the second conditional isn’t talking about the past).
I find that if this is reinforced constantly throughout the process, it sticks. You should then practise by giving students many possible situations about the future. Remind them only to think whether the situation is likely or unlikely, and to make a conditional sentence based on this.
Hope this helps, I find it works well!
Fantastic, thanks – I’ll give it a try, let you know how I get on.
What you have to do is to refer to PAST not merely as past but something that is distant. In other words PAST = DISTANCE. Try using gestures, pictures. What happened is further away than what is happening right now.
In the second conditional we use PAST to DISTANCE ourselves from these events that we talk about using this conditional, to show that it is not now, it could be now, but it is hardly possible. It’s not likely to happen, that’s why we use past, to show that what is now and what could happen (the events in the second conditional) is distant.
Come back to the first conditional and compare it with the second.
If I get up early, I’ll do more work. -> normal situation, I can get up early, no problem for me
If I got up early, I’d do more work. –> Oh no, it’s difficult, I never get up early, I don’t think it will happen, the event of getting up early is somewhere far away, like in my dreams that will never come true
On my website, I’ve posted a song that I’ve found works wonders with 2nd conditional, at least with my tweenagers, who are generally big fans of Beyonce:
This helps to demonstrate the "non-pastness" of 2nd conditional: Beyonce is NOT a boy, and never WAS a boy. She (quite clearly) is female.
It could be useful if you have a group of younger students (even university-age students like this kind of thing from time to time).
call me picky but it’s not the past that we use in the 2nd C! It’s the subjunctive – proof of that can be seen in ‘If I were you..’ ‘were’ is clearly not the past of 1st person verb to be.
But.. of course most students don’t need to know that, they need to know that we use the past form in most cases but it’s not the past. The declarative information is generally more useful for teachers rather than students.
Having said that, I like the rain / tiger scenario though can’t see how either can be easily identified by students as ‘future’!
Is it also worth remembering that Order / Sequence of Acquisition research suggests that learners cannot be ‘hot housed’ – they get hold of stuff when they are ready to? In addition, ‘U’ shaped learning could well come into play when talking about a complex item such as 2nd C. Learners may lose it over time while it is being processed only to re-find it (so to speak) when the processing is complete. Message? Let things settle before assuming they are not there at all.
(Wow, just realised that the OP was from 2006 – it’s historical!!)
Working with language learners and training teachers since 1980. What’s it all about? http://teachinglearning.freeforums.org
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