Lesson plan (B2): I wish and If only

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This EFL lesson plan is a recent activity that I used in an FCE class, which I found to work really well with Upper Intermediate (B2) learners. I think it could work equally well with Advanced/CAE learners as a review of the forms.

It could be a standalone lesson plan, or would supplement most courses well.

The inspiration for this comes from Lindsay Clanfield’s Global English textbook, and uses as its source SMITH Magazine‘s “Six-word memoir” feature, which you can see online here. The idea is that people distil their lives into 6 words, which throws up all kinds of interesting language in itself that you may want to exploit.

Aims:

  • learners to understand and use wish/if only with past simple and past perfect to discuss hypothetical desires/regrets in the present and past.
  • learners to practise summarisng and reacting to short, abstract texts.

Materials:

6 word memoir sentences and student worksheet

  • extra controlled practise exercises (optional)
  • post-it notes or similar

Stages:

  1. Ask students if there is anything they would like to change about themselves or their lives up to this point. Give personal examples, and try not to let things get too heavy at this stage! Give students a post-it note (or two) and ask them to write down one thing that they would like to change about their life now (a desire) and one thing about the past they wish had been different (a regret). Tell the students to retain this for later on.
  2. Open up the discussion to cover what things people generally want to change about themselves/their lives, and board examples during feedback. E.g. their appearance, want to lose/gain weight, bad relationships, job satisfaction etc.
  3. Stick the 12 “six-word memoir” sentences around the room and direct your students’ attentions to them. Explain the main idea, that they represent real peoples’ desires and regrets about their lives, but that they have been written to only contain 6 words. Students then move around the room in small groups, reading each statement and discussing what they think it means. As feedback, as students to describe which statements they like/dislike and why.
  4. Give students a copy of the sentences and ask them to decide which refer to the present and which to the past. Then, give them the student worksheet and ask them to match the 6-word memoirs to one of the sentences on the worksheet.
  5. Focus on the form of the statements on the worksheet, which all use either if only/wish + past simple (for present desires) or if only/wish + past perfect (for past regrets). The students should be able to infer the grammar rules for themselves. At this stage, I also looked a little at pronunciation, chorally drilling the sentences to increase awareness of sentence stress and intonation.
  6. Depending on how well your students have understood the target language, you may want to add in a controlled practice stage here. I used one based on an FCE Use of English part 4 exam.
  7. Return to the post-it notes from stage 1. Students now turn their notes into sentences using the target language.
  8. If your students are willing, ask them to try to turn their wish/if only statements into 6 word memoirs – this is extremely challenging!

As a follow-up, direct students to the 6-word memoir website and ask them to choose some more of their favourites. Students could even submit their own efforts to the project!

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