Regrets will get them talking

classroom activity
Regrets - a great class topic
An effective low prep/high output activity to get English language learners speaking in the classroom. 


If you’re looking for an interesting topic for a class, regrets is a good one. Now, philosophically, I’m kind of opposed to regrets. I try not to have them. But it’s usually something that will really engage a class and get them speaking.. This is probably best with a class who already know and like each other, but personalised topics like this are a great way to build rapport. 

If we’re meeting for the first time, I’m Jo Gakonga, I’ve been teaching and training teachers for over thirty years, I’m a CELTA tutor and assessor and I make videos for trainees and English language teachers (and those a bit further down the road) at So if you don’t know it, go and check it out - but not before you watch the rest of this video and liked and subscribe.

There are three obvious areas of language with regret. The first one is 'should have' or 'shouldn’t have' done something. The next is the third conditional or mixed conditionals (If I’d worked harder at school I ‘d probably have a better job now). Finally, there’s ‘wish’ and ‘if only’-  I wish I hadn’t done that/ I wish I’d taken the opportunity when I had the chance.

You could also include I regret + ing. Note that this is a very simple structure, so it might be more attractive for your learners, but it’s probably not as commonly used in speech as the others and It sounds more formal so make sure they know that. 

Which of these language areas you want to look at will depend on the level of the class of course- at lower levels ‘should have’ is probably enough but at higher levels where these are revision, you might want to include all of them in a functional way. With any levels, the lesson could run in the same kind of format:

Get the learners attention sit down in a comfortable place. Say that you’re going to tell them a story. Now tell them about something that happened to you. This doesn’t have to be major, it could just be a bad day.  You missed the bus, you were late for your class, spilt coffee down yourself and generally everything went wrong. It doesn’t have to be true either.

If you want some ideas on storytelling, Jamie Keddies work on video telling is great and he also uses story to introduce vocabulary in a really interesting way. I’d highly recommend it. Here’s the link

When you’ve told them the story, get them to retell it to each other and get feedback. This makes sure that they’ve understood and it’s another good opportunity for fluency and practising any new vocabulary that you’ve introduced. Now ask them ‘How could this day have been better?’ Elicit one or two ideas from them, for example, ‘you should’ve got up earlier’ and then get them to work in pairs to talk about this and maybe write down three or four ideas. This will give you a good idea of how much of this language they’re already familiar with.

Elicit some ideas from them and then introduce the language that you think is appropriate for the level. Don’t forget to work on pronunciation here- there’s lots of value in looking at connected speech- the weak ‘have’ in ‘you shouldn’t have done that’, contractions - if I’d done … I wouldn’t have met and sentence stress too- I wish I’d…. If only I’d… 

You could get them to go back to the ideas that they had about your story and improve them as controlled practice.

Then ask them to think about a bad day that they had, or something that they regret, give them a little bit of time to prepare this and then ask them to tell their partner about their story, including the language of regret.

When they’ve done it once, and you’ve done some error correction, swap partners and get them to do exactly the same thing again. This kind of opportunity to repeat a task is really important - it’s a useful way to improve the language that they’re using because they already know what they want to say - the content - so they can focus on how they’re saying it - the form.

Hope you have fun with this and check out my Communication Activities for lots of other ideas for low prep/ high output lessons. 

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