A lesson plan with a dilemma.

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As a teacher, you’re probably familiar with a desert island dilemma:

You’re stuck on a desert island together with 7 other people: a policeman, a prisoner, a chef, a toddler, a retired doctor, a young couple. There’s a boat coming to rescue 3 of you. You can save yourself and 2 other people. The boat journey is going to take a few days. Who do you save?

This is a great activity and it has so much potential for:

  • Vocabulary practice
  • Grammar practice – conditionals, wishes, past tenses, future tenses
  • Functional language practice – agreeing, disagreeing, stating an opinion

It can be a short warmer but it can also be a full lesson. And in this post, we’ll show you how to turn this short dilemma into a full lesson with grammar practice.


A lesson plan with a dilemma.

1. Warmer

On the board write a few words connected with being stranded on a desert island: remote, sand, stuck, rescue, etc. The students try to guess what the topic of the lesson is going to be.

2. Pre-teach vocabulary

From the dilemma, choose any words and phrases that might be difficult for the students. Write them on the board and ask the students which ones they’re familiar with. Explain the meaning if some phrases are still unclear.

3. Dilemma

Divide the students into pairs or small groups. Distribute the dilemma (or write it on the board to save paper). Students look at the scenario to check if everything is clear. 

3. Discussion

In pairs or groups, students discuss who they want to save. Give them a few minutes to do it.

4. Feedback

When they’ve finished, students share their outcomes with the other groups. As a class, they can try and agree on the best solution.

5. 2nd conditional practice

At this stage, students think about the possible consequences of rescuing or leaving all the other people. They make sentences with 2nd conditional:

If we rescued the policeman, he would …”

6. 3rd and mixed conditionals (optional stage)

At this stage, the students imagine that they were rescued with the people that they chose. They now think of what could have happened if they had made other choices.

They make hypothetical statements using 3rd conditional:

“If we hadn’t rescued the policeman, we would have …”

and mixed conditionals:

“If we had rescued the chef, we would …”

7. Homework 

At home, students write a short story about what happened next.

This is a very simple lesson plan that doesn’t require any prep and you can use it with pretty much any dilemma. 

What else can you do with a dilemma like this?

Ask the students to:

  • think of an extra option to add
  • come up with the best solution to the situation
  • think of the consequences of each option (in this case of saving or not saving certain people)
  • list advantages and disadvantages of choosing each option
  • role-play the situation

We hope your students have a great time choosing and debating!

Check out Dilemmas for 30 ready-to-use scenarios for discussion.