Teacher Tip – Talking about the future

Interactive English introduces the future in levels 4a and 4b. Students are often confused about when to use the different future structures, so here are a couple of ideas for practicing them in one-on-on and group settings.

Will vs going to for plans vs decisions made at the moment.

  • Bring in a couple of pictures with a person about to do an action. For example, you could bring in a picture of someone at the door of an airplane about to jump out. Ask students which is correct; He is going to jump out., or He will jump out. In this case, going to is the most appropriate form because the picture shows it is a planned action rather than something decided on at the moment.
  • Next, write several pairs of sentences and have your student(s) come up with an appropriate context.

For example,

a. I’ll sell my car.

An appropriate context might be; “ I need money to pay my rent, and don’t know how to get it.” Selling the car is a decision made at the moment of speaking.

b. I’m going to sell my car.

A context for this sentence could be:  “I want to buy a new car, so my plan is to sell my old car first.”

Here are some other pairs for your student to work with:

I’ll have a hamburger and a coke./ I’m having a hamburger and coke.

                I’ll close the door. /I’m going to close the door.


Will vs going to for predictions

  • Both will and going to can be used for predictions. Will is generally more formal. Role play a situation where one student is a fortune teller and the other students (or you, if you are teaching one student) ask questions about the future. Be sure to switch roles so that everyone has a chance to ask and answer questions.

Going to vs. present continuous for plans and goals

  • Once again, both structures can be used to indicate plans and goals, and in some cases they overlap. The difference is that we tend to use the present progressive when the plan has already been made. Going to is used more to express intentions.

For example, we can say “I’m driving to California. “ or “I’m going to drive to California.” The first sentence indicates that I’ve already made arrangements. In the second sentence, the focus is more on my intentions.

  • To practice the difference, provide your students with pairs of sentences and ask them to tell you which show plans vs intentions.I’m staying in the Holiday Inn . /I’m going to stay at the Holiday Inn. (In which case do I already have reservations?)Tom is bringing that book to class tonight. / Tom is going to bring that book to class tonight. (In which case have I probably already confirmed it with Tom?)

Whichever structure you practice, don’t forget to review it in a future lesson.