Teaching the future in the past

  • I was going to call you, but I couldn’t find a phone.
  • I meant/intended to call you, but I couldn’t find a phone.
  • Originally, I was leaving at 7pm, but because of fog I only left at 11pm
  • In the above sentences the future is intended but doesn’t occur.
  • Concept Questions: Did I intend to call you? (Yes).  Did I actually call you? (No).  Why not? (I couldn’t find a phone)
  • Or: When did I expect to leave? (7am).  When did I actually leave? (At 11).  Why was I delayed? (Because of fog)
  • She was born in 1926 as Norma Jean Baker, and would later become Marilyn Monroe.
  • Originally an unknown model, she was to become a 20th century icon.
  • The above sentences show that the future event is not intended/planned, but occurs nevertheless – sometimes this may give the impression of the event being destined to happen.
  • Concept questions: Was she famous when she was born? (No). Was she expected to become famous? (No).  But, did she become famous later? (Yes)
  • My itinerary said that my flight was to leave/would leave at 7am
  • The above sentence is essentially indirect speech, reporting a future form.
  • Concept questions:  When did I expect to leave? (7am).  When did I actually leave? (Don’t know, could have been at 7am or later or before).
  • Form:
  • The past form of going to (do) refers to the intended future, and the but clause explains why this didn’t happen as intended. (I was going to call you but.…)
  • Some past simple+infinitive constructions also express future in the past. (I meant to call you but…)
  • would represents the past version of will (and would later become)
  • The past of be+infinitive (was/were to do) expresses future in the past (she was to become..)
  • reported future – is to becomes was to, will becomes would (flight was to /would leave…..)
  • The past continuous is also used to express and intended/arranged future. Again the but clause explains why it didn’t happen. (originally I was leaving at 7pm but…..)

Suggested activities to practise the structure:

Excuses, Excuses: In open class, brainstorm a list of household chores (eg the ironing, the washing, hoovering etc).  Then put the learners into pairs.  They take it in turns to choose a chore (e.g. ‘you said you were going to do the ironing’) and reply with an excuse (e.g. ‘I was going to do it but there was a power failure).  For more practice, repeat in a different context (at school, at the office, in a restaurant etc).

It didn’t happen: Make a 6×6 grid on the board and write prompts into each square (e.g. Christina/look for new job/last year). Split the class into two teams.  Throw a die twice to determine the square (the first throw is for across, the second is for down).  Team A has to make a sentence from the corresponding prompt (e.g. Wasn’t Christina going to look for a new job last year?) and Team B has to explain why this didn’t happen (e.g. well, she was going to but then she got a pay rise.)  Then the teams swap roles.  If the same square is hit again later in the activity, Team B should try to think of another explanantion.

Famous Lives: Go to http://www.biography.com and choose a few famous people that everyone will know.  You will need to note some key events in their lives with dates.  Make a bio-card of these notes for each personality alongside a photo of the famous person.  Give three bio-cards to each group of learners, who then expand the notes into mini-biographies of their personalities using would and was to be/become/win/star etc.  then each group can present their famous lives to the whole class.

Chain Story: Make groups of 4 learners.  Give each group one or two starting sentences (e.g. last Sunday I decided to study all day.  I was going to get up early but….) Student A has to complete the first prompt and hand over a new prompt using was going to /intended to/meant to to Student B who completes it and hands over to Student  C etc.  Try to get the story to go around in a circle at least twice.  Then compare the stories from each group.

Thank you teacher John Potts, Zurich