If X, then Y (a la Rube Goldberg)

To make students comfortable using the sentence structure "If X, then Y" - for example, If I open the door, then the dog will come inside.

The lesson uses the Rube Goldberg idea of an extremely complicated machine which does something really simple (for a great example, which you could even show your kids, see the music video for “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go). You can also read up on Rube Goldberg machines on wikipedia.

The lesson time is divided into an introduction, a creative brainstorming process, a presentation prep time, and presentation time.

For the introduction, show them examples of a Rube Goldberg machine, and explain some of the workings of the machine (e.g. If the ball rolls down the hill, then the scissors will cut the rope). Be sure to describe the process as simply as possible, while still using the “If X, then Y” grammar structure.

After they have understood a few simple explanations of yours, move on to demonstrating the creation of a Rube Goldberg Machine.

Draw a simple RG Machine on the board (keeping in mind that the examples you give are bound to show up in every RG Machine the class creates – make them good.) and explain it as you go (If I cut the string, then the balloon will fly). Emphasize strongly that they can use any idea they like, no matter how bizarre it is (in fact, the more bizarre, the better). If they don’t know the English required to explain their idea, you can help them with it.

Next, divide the class into groups (4 to 6 students per group is optimal), and give each group a very large sheet of paper (possibly stick 4 A3 sheets together), and some marker pens. Give them a certain amount of time (10 – 15mins) to come up with ideas on scrap paper, and put them together in different ways. Then get them to draw the machine on the large sheet of paper, and once finished, write down descriptions or keywords next to each process / part.

The final part of the lesson will be used to present their machines to the rest of the class in English (each student should have something to say, therefore the machine should consist of at least 4 – 6 steps).

I find it useful to specify limits on time for each part of the process (with the option to be flexible if needs be), and a minimum amount of ideas that must be used.

When I used this lesson plan, we took 2 lessons per class to finish it, but the outcome was well worth it. Kids forget they are studying “difficult English,” because they are too involved in the process of creativity.


It's great fun! You'll often find the artsy students who may not be so good at English will jump into it, and even kids with no obvious English or art talents will shine, as everyone gets very involved.

Junior High
video example, large paper, markers