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How To Teach Conditional Tense

How do you teach the conditional tense in a way that’s actually fun and motivating for your students?  Ever get looks of despair when trying to teach the English Condtiional tense?

I totally understand.

The Artistic Game That Changed How I Teach Conditionals

After years of teaching in ESL classrooms and private tutoring, I still find conditional tense to be trickiest to teach. At least, that’s what I thought before I found this awesome game! To be honest, I found this game two years ago in my Spanish class! So, you can definitely use it to teach a lot of different foreign languages.

The key is teaching the conditional tense through art.  Yes, I said art.  In my opinion, paintings work best for this, as they really draw your students in. I’ve used this with a whole class and with individual tutoring students and find it works every time!

So, here are the steps!

Step 1:  Teach the Conditional

Now, don’t skip this important first step! Your students need to have at least an introductory lesson on conditionals first.  Go through a few questions with your students to review, such as:

  • What does the word conditional mean?
  • What are the four conditionals? (Or three, if you prefer to combine zero and first conditional) 
  • When do you use each type of condtional?

Use this handy infographic I made for a basic review.  Further inforgraphics on the conditional tense will be coming soon in the Printables Library. You’ve already signed up to get access, right? If not, what are you waiting for? Join The Teaching Cove at the bottom of this post and you’ll have access to a whole load of teaching resources (it’s free, why not, right?!)


Step 2: Choose some lovely Edward Hopper Paintings


Edward Hopper was a realist artist who painted in the 1950s and 1960s. His paintings are beautiful and really make you wonder about the life stories of their vibrant characters. My favourite one is A Room in New York. In fact, I loved it so much that, when I took a painting class last summer, I painted it! My copy is pictured on the right.


Edward Hopper A Room in New York

A Room in New York – My Copy (Summer 2015)










Need a book of Edward Hopper photos to make colour photocopies? Check out this beautiful coffee table book.

Step 3: Play the Game Using Each Conditional


Here’s the fun part!  Take the painting you’ve chosen and hold it up in front of the class.  Have each student come up with a story about the people’s lives in the pictures, using the conditional. Take the photo on the book cover in the top left, for example. A woman sits alone at a cafe or bar. What is her situation?

  • Conditional Zero:            
    •  If she thinks about him, she is sad   (general, habitual truth)
  • Conditional 1:            
    •  If she thinks about him, she will be sad   (truth in the moment, future consequence)
  • Conditional 2:            
    •  If she were with him now, she would be angry  (unreal conditional)
  • Conditional 3:            
    •  If she had never met him, she wouldn’t have had her first heartbreak   (regret)


That’s it!  It’s super simple, but you’d be surprised at the stories some students come up with to explain Edward Hopper’s characters’ moods. It’s my favourite way to teach the conditional tense! Try it out with other realist painters, too.

Want to go one step further?  You could even assign a writing assignment on it. Have students invent a story and used the different conditionals a few times each.

Are you going to use this in your class? Have you used it already? I’d love to hear some of the stories your students come up with. Let me know in the comments!

Happy Teaching!


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