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Grammar lesson plan: “I wish” and “If only”

Grammar lesson plan: “I wish” and “If only”

This lesson provides activities that help students express regrets, wishes, and complaints using “I wish,” and “If only”.  This is important stuff—proficiency in this subject is required for students to achieve a B2 level.


Prepare written scenarios on slips of paper and tape these around the classroom. Assign pairs to each one. Ask them to discuss, and monitor their responses.


You are expecting guests over for dinner in an hour.
****But your house is a mess and you haven’t gone to the market yet.What do you need to do? Divide the work between you and your partner.

A: I’ll clean the house if you go to the market.
B: Great. What do you want to eat?
A: Chicken sounds good. I’ll start cleaning the living room.
B: I’ll pick up some wine and dessert. Is chocolate cake alright?


Practice 1: Regrets

Inform pairs that they were only able to complete 50% of their tasks. Ask them to provide solutions to three – four of their problems.

For example:

_A: I didn’t clean the dining room.
_B: I didn’t pick up a dessert.

Make sure to monitor and encourage conversation. After a few minutes, have students take their seats again. Now, on the whiteboard, write down the same sentences as above and the following:

Regrets use I wish / if only and a past participle verb.

Also write:

  1. I wish I had cleaned the dining room.

  2. If only I had picked up a dessert.

Have pairs rewrite three – four of their sentences in this same way. Monitor their work and elicit three students to write one sentence each on the whiteboard.

Practice 2: Wishes

Write the following on the whiteboard:

I wish &

If only


simple past + complement


would / could + base verb + comp.

I wish you

took out

the trash



take out

the trash

If only you



Have students recall any chores that they wish their roommates/imaginary roommates would do. Let them write 2 – 3 down on sticky-notes (one sentence per note) and and put them up on the wall.

Let students walk around the room to read each other’s sentences.
Example: “I wish Tom washed the dishes after dinner.”

Practice 3: Impossibilities and Complaints

Write on the whiteboard:

We express complaints and impossible desires by placing:

would / could before the verb


**were + -ing or adjective

Such as:

I wish I could  fly.

If only you would  be more careful.


I wish I were  young again.

If only I were  traveling to the Caribbean.

This is sometimes referred to as the subjunctive mood.

Ask students to write down responses to the following questions using the previous model. Have them exchange and correct each other’s responses. Monitor for accuracy.

  1. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

  2. What is something that you wish your partner or friend would stop doing?

  3. Think back to being a teenager. What’s something that you wish you did differently?

  4. What were some things you wish you hadn’t said in a job interview?

Application – C1/C2 level

C1/C2 students should be able to apply this type of grammar in conditional clauses by combining two ideas (sometimes past and present). Write on the whiteboard:

I wouldn’t be hungry right now if only I hadn’t skipped breakfast.

[Would / could (complaint)] + [if only + regret]

If (only) I weren’t so short I would play for the Golden State Warriors.

[If only would / could (complaint)] + [would / could (impossibility)]

Final activity

Pairs compose a script (~150 words) using the grammar that they’ve just learned. Pick one prompt:

  1. Ramona is at a party wearing a silly costume while everyone else is in formal wear.

  2. Fred is at a party wearing formal wear while everyone else is in costume.

The dialogue should include:

  • Regret

  • Wish

  • Impossibility / Complaint

  • Mixed conditionals


Beth: I think I misunderstood the dress code. I wish I had called to confirm.
Cath: No, it’s my fault. If only I had been clearer in the invitation.
Beth: If only I packed a change of clothes, I wouldn’t have to walk around in this gorilla-suit all night.
Cath: I wish I could offer you a dress, but they’re all at the cleaners.
Beth: I wish I wasn’t the only one in a silly costume.
Cath: Hold on, someone wearing a banana-suit just walked in.

Have pairs swap their dialogues with other students and have them identify regrets, wishes and complaints. Check and collect their dialogues.

Wrap up: Discuss

Regrets can also be expressed using modals like should. Ask students if they notice a difference in tone between these two forms. Are there any other ways to express regret?

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