I use this activity primarily as a way to consolidate the form of the third conditional, invariably at the end of the first lesson in which students meet the form, or at the latest the one after.

Chris Trickett

Often, role plays are opportunities for students to express themselves freely, and this is no different, but there is a very heavy focus on reproduction of the form, which as teacher I am very careful to monitor and correct. As many teachers know, students understand this structure relatively easily, but struggle to produce it naturally and easily in conversation.

So here's we do what we can to bridge the gap.


There are different ways to lead in to the role plays and I wouldn't say there is a best way. But the one thing that doesn't change is that you will need to divide the students into fours, so prepare one set of role cards for each group. You will also need to prepare one reading comprehension and questions for each pair.


The stages given here are intended to follow activities aimed at teaching the form, use and pronunciation of the third conditional.

  • I write the word ‘regret' on the board and elicit its meaning. If I'm teaching a class I know very well I misspell it and use this mistake as a way to introduce the activity. If I had paid attention, I would have spelt the word correctly.
  • Then I ask students to think of some things they regret, without obliging them in any way. If my judgement tells me the class is happy to talk about this, we share a few of our mistakes and I write them on the board. Three or four is enough, I only do this to introduce the idea of regret.
  • Then I give them some pictures of famous people and ask them to do the same from the perspective of various category A celebrities. Invariably, a variation on the sentence, if I hadn't had cosmetic surgery, I wouldn't have lost my looks crops up. Say no more. I let this stage run for five minutes, as I suggested, the more the students reflect on and produce this structure the better. If they don't get it right now, they might still mix it up at higher levels.
  • Then I write two more names on the board and ask the students if they know who they are.
  1. Bruce Ismay
  2. Stanley Lord

Occasionally they do, more commonly they don't, but regardless of their prior knowledge I give them a short text (see material) on the sinking of the Titanic which will form the basis for the remainder of the activity.

  • Ask the students to skim read the text and bring them together to ask them what it is about. I don't go any deeper at this stage but I do tell them that they will need to read it again to answer some questions.
  • Pre-teach any difficult lexis. I prefer to do this by having students match words and their definition (this will require preparation)
  • Students now do a reading comprehension (see material) which will lead them specifically to consider the mistakes made during the events leading up to the tragedy
  • While they are working, I monitor and give any help where appropriate
  • Then we check the answers. I do this in the traditional way (all together) because I prefer to use this as a way to focus the group on the next activity
  • I briefly ask the class to consider what could have happened differently. What went wrong? Then I elicit suitable sentences for the third conditional form, for example If the captain had received the radio messages, the collision wouldn't have happened. I only write three or four on the board, by this stage I don't want them to get bored of it.
  • Instead now, I ask the class to work in pairs to consider the disaster through the eyes of a survivor. Not with a view to producing more third conditional sentences, but to prepare them for the role plays. I start them off and as I walk round I encourage them to consider how they would have felt during the events, before the events, after the events. I ask them who they would have blamed, what they would have wanted to happen after.
  • Then I put pairs into fours and ask them to share their conclusions. This stage need only last a few minutes.
  • Now it is time for the role plays. Give each group of four the cards and ask them to share them out. Preparation time is important but should be limited. It doesn't really matter too much if they stick to the facts. You might like to allow all the Bruce Ismays etc to meet for a few minutes ahead of the final activity to compare notes.
  • I start them off, I find this a good way to make it clear what I require. I stand next to a survivor, stare Bruce Ismay in the face and snarl, If you hadn't wanted to break the record, the collision wouldn't have happened
  • Then I let them talk. I circulate, monitor, and correct ALL mistakes in the third conditional form (other mistakes as I see fit)
  • When the activity has run its course (in my experience, perhaps 10 minutes), I bring the class back together to conclude. The question, who won? usually does the trick.

Follow up

  • Students watch the film Titanic and answer questions / discuss / set each other questions about it in teams
  • Depending on their sensibilities, students write diary entries for survivors of the disaster for four days starting one day before the crash
  • Students write to Bruce Ismay demanding he take responsibility for the accident
  • Students write to survivors on behalf on Bruce Ismay explaining that the collision was unavoidable
  • The class has a general knowledge quiz, convened by the teacher, with a focus on significant events in history
  • Students write informational posters that would be suited to a museum display about the sinking of the Titanic (possibly with a focus on the third conditional)
  • Students build a ship for their teacher and send him/her on a transatlantic voyage



Dea Chris,

It is really exciting to see your innovative way of teaching the third conditional.

I can try to use it and adapt it to teaching other grammatical topics.

Thank you very much for posting an effective and interesting way of teaching!

With your method, grammar becomes a fun!

With warm regards

Dr. Manchi Sarat Babu, Reader in English

Silver Jubilee Government College (Autonomous)

[Accredited with "A" Grade by NAAC]

KURNOOL - 518002 (AP), INDIA

This is a fantastic lesson plan, I'm going to try it with my intermediate students!

Absolutely great! Thank you very much for sharingBest wishes, Sophie

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