How to use the poem 'if' to teach conditionals

Written by taylor divico
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How to use the poem 'if' to teach conditionals
"If" resonates with young people. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Conditionals function in grammar to show a potential cause and effect relationship. Conditionals implement the word "if" or "when" in a dependent clause with words including "would," "could" and "may" in an independent clause. The poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling is written in a series of conditionals that focus on potential experiences and steps to take in life, leading to the last lines that state: "Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Poem copy
  • Dictionary

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  1. 1

    Print out a copy of the poem for each student in the class. Ask your students to highlight the conditionals throughout the poem, before teaching the definitions and identifying features of conditionals.

  2. 2

    Ask students to skim through the poem as a pre-reading strategy and identify unfamiliar vocabulary words. Unfamiliar terms may include "imposters," "knaves" and "sinew." Ask students to look up and write down the definitions of the unfamiliar words. This will help them ascertain the meaning of certain verses while reading the poem. More pre-reading strategies include defining whether the poem is a narrative or expository piece of writing and identifying point of view.

  3. 3

    Tell students to clap when they hear a conditional spoken in a verse. Call on students to read the poem aloud. Stop after every stanza to include "during reading" comprehension strategies. Ask students to summarise the verses by explaining them or putting them into their own words. Call on students to make guesses about who Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem for. Discuss the author's purpose, particularly at the end of the poem.

  4. 4

    Converse with students about what the poem is about and who the author wrote it for, to confirm your student's guesses. Generate responses. Some guesses may be that the conditionals are words of wisdom from a father to a son, and that the author is instructing a young person about how to handle the trials of life to become a mature adult. Ask individual students to reread verses of the poem that they connect to and to explain how they relate to that verse.

  5. 5

    Place students in small cooperative learning groups. Ask them to read the poem and generate 10 conditional statements that their parents or teachers might say. Ideas include, "If you study for your test, you could get an A" or "I may allow you to go to the party, if you complete your homework." Allow groups to share their responses.

  6. 6

    Extend the lesson into a writing activity, particularly for advanced students. Ask students to write a poem for a younger sibling who has not started school. Students can name the poem "When" or "If." Ask your students to use conditionals within the verses to inform a young child about how to handle the trials of school from an older child's perspective. Encourage students to think of how to end their poem with a prophetic verse such as, "You will rule the school and all the kids in it, And - which is more - you'll pass onto Kindergarten."

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