Practice activities for “Going to”
Ideas for fun activities practising “going to for plans” and “going to for predictions with present evidence”
The structure be + going to + infinitive has two distinct meanings.
One is predictions with present evidence, e.g. “The baby’s going to grab that spoon if you don’t move it.” This meaning is similar to “will for predictions” such as “I will be rich one day” but there is some evidence for our predictions, such as a visual clue.
The other meaning of “going to” is for talking about plans, intentions and goals such as “I’m going to wait a while before I look for another job.” This meaning can be contrasted with “will for spontaneous decisions” such as “You stay there. I’ll get it for you.” It is also slightly different from “Present Continuous for future arrangements” such as “I’m seeing him tonight, so I’ll give it to him then.” When I use the Present Continuous in that example, I have already spoken to that person and decided together when and where to meet, and so it is more than just my plan.
As can be seen from the examples above, the two meanings of “going to” are quite different from each other. There is an explanation for why “going to” is used in both situations, being that there is a connection to the present in both cases. With the predictions the connection is the present evidence, and with the plan it is the idea being in my mind right now.
There are also cases where it isn’t obvious which of the two uses a “going to” sentence is, e.g. looking at my boss’s diary and saying “He’s going to be back before lunch.” This could be his plan or my prediction of his future movements based on the visible evidence in his diary.
Despite the possible connection between the two uses of “going to”, it is usually best to teach them separately. The ideas below are therefore divided into two sections, with the more common “going to for plans” used first:
Fun activities for practising “going to for plans”
To practice this meaning of going to, obviously we need to get students talking about real or imaginary plans. We will also need to give them some prompts to help them speak, and the people who they are working with will need a real reason to listen. An easy way of doing this is to give them some words or phrases that they must make going to sentences from, e.g. “this year”, “apply for” and “exam”. Their partner can then guess whether the plans are real or not. Alternatively, they can make such sentences about their partner (e.g. “You are going to give up smoking this year”) and their partner can tell them whether it is true or not, perhaps scoring one point for a true sentence.
Another good motivation to listen is to judge the quality of the ideas that they hear. You can ask groups of students to produce a plan such as how to steal a diamond, how to survive in the jungle or desert (e.g. after a plane crash), things to take on an adventure trip, business plans, solving household problems without the usual tools, or how to become rich and famous. After they all present their ideas to the class, everyone votes on which plan is best. “Going to for plans” can be contrasted with “Will for spontaneous intentions” by asking students to use the latter when they make their decisions as a group and the former when they present their plans to the class.
You can also get students to contrast these two tenses, with one student saying what they are planning to do and the other students in their group competing to come up with ways to help them, e.g. “I’ll bring a corkscrew” and “I’ll bring some paper plates” for “I’m going to have a housewarming party.” The winner is either the person who has the best idea or the last person to come up with an acceptable idea when everyone else has run out.
Another classic motivation to listen is guessing games. A nice one with “Going to for plans” is for one person to say what small things they are planning to do as part of a (real or imaginary) bigger plan, and the people listening try and guess the bigger plan. For example, the person speaking says “I’m going to get a haircut”, “I’m going to practise my handshake”, “I’m going to think about what my strengths and weaknesses are” etc until their partners guess that they are going to try to get a new job.
Fun activities for “going to for predictions with present evidence”
The difficult thing about “predictions with present evidence” is what “present evidence” means. For example, palm-reading and other kinds of fortune-telling are often used to practise “will”, but in fact the line on the hand or image in the crystal ball is probably seen as present evidence by the fortune teller. If you want to use this for “going to”, anything to do with fortune telling is usually popular in class. A good one that involves more vocabulary and use of a dictionary is picking five totally random words and then making a future life story out of them.
Another example where two different tenses are possible is graphs, where someone could use either “will” or “going to” to predict how markets, inflation, interest rates etc could move. If you want to use this for “going to”, you could ask students to make those predictions about next week based on graphs that you bring in, then check in the next lesson who was correct. You could also give them a selection of graphs and ask them to make predictions about how any one of them will move, e.g. “It’s almost certainly going to stay flat for at least another month or two.” Their partners can then guess which of the graphs they were talking about and say whether they agree with those predictions or not.
Perhaps the clearest use of going to for predictions is for accidents that are about to happen. This can be practised with Pictionary (drawings to represent sentences like “The apple is going to hit him on the head”) or mimes (acting out sentences like “The jar is going to fall and break”). Students could also choose one object and make “going to” predictions about that object until their partners guess what it is, e.g. “He’s going to open it”, “It’s going to blow away” and “It’s going to turn inside out” for an umbrella.
Another obvious thing to do with visual clues is to use video. The best kind is something slapstick like Mr Bean. You can pause the video just as something is about to happen and ask students to guess what is going to happen next. Alternatively, you can give them the list of “going to” sentences and ask them to shout them out when they are sure those things are going to happen within the next ten seconds. You can also extend that idea to contrast “going to for predictions” and “will for predictions”. Students must guess both the thing that they have visual evidence of (with “going to”) and the consequences (with “will”), e.g. “He’s going to punch the man, but the man won’t even notice because Mr Bean is so weak.”