Teaching French si clauses can be really difficult, because we often are teaching it after years of heavy grammar. Students memorize conjugations, do some written quizzes, maybe do a project, and then move on to the next chapter, the next set of conjugations.
After several years of French, some of the students probably feel a little … bored. Are they able to memorize things? Without a doubt, some of the students can memorize any conjugation and recite to us out loud an entire verb chart (or 10). Does that mean that they are understanding when and how to use those verbs? Does it mean they can use them correctly in conversation? Maybe, but chances are, some of our students mix up their tenses. They can recall the conjugations, but after the futur simple, the imparfait, and maybe even the subjonctif, will they be able to flow through a normal conversation using the correct tense? Most of the time, they need a lot more fun practice like this:
Of all the verb tenses, the conditional is by far my favorite! We love si clauses, and we often plays games of “What if…” To get you started, you’ll need to get students used to speaking in hypothetical terms. This writing and speaking activity is a great way to get students used the conditional by speaking and writing in the 1st person.
I start the activity with writing prompts that I put on the wall on poster paper. I use about 10-12 different prompts and posters for a class of 20-25. I often have 2 or more classes doing this activity, so when I do, I might put 2 posters (or a larger poster) for each question to accommodate all of their answers.
Students do a tour of the room in pairs and complete the si clauses. They aren’t necessarily working together, but I do pairs because my room won’t hold 25 posters. This allows two students to work on the same question at a time. They will work with that partner later, though, so be sure to pair them up well.
The writing part of this activity will take about 1 minute per question. You can give the students 30-45 seconds that you time, or you can have them do a self-paced tour. If you have 10-12 questions, you should plan for 10-15 minutes to do the writing portion.
Because they only get about 30 seconds per question, you will notice that not every answer is 100% correct. That’s okay. We do this as sort of a brainstorming activity. Once students have done the tour of the room, then they sit back down with their partners and go over their answers orally. Each student should answer the questions with his/her partner and explain why he/she answered that way. I usually give my classes about 7-10 minutes to do this part so that they can use references to find any vocabulary they were lacking during the first activity. After students have had ample time to work with a partner, I randomly question students.
As a follow-up, you can use one last question as an exit ticket. I usually ask students to answer and then explain why they answered that way. I give them about 3-4 minutes to write a quality answer and turn it in.
In total, this activity usually takes about 35 minutes with teacher directions, movement time, follow-up questions, and the exit ticket. I usually do it after students have learned the irregular stems of the conditional and are beginning to work on si clauses. It is a good idea to make sure they understand the structure Si + imparfait –> conditionnel before doing it though, or you will find many sentences ending in the imparfait.
Using French si clauses doesn’t have to be tricky, and it can be a ton of fun. Just look for fun conditional clauses and encourage students to imagine their lives using the futur simple, and they’ll be making their own great sentences in no time.