Solving tricky problems

A speaking or writing exercise to propose solutions to tricky problems. This uses both modal verbs (could, should, would), and conditional sentences, so is better for intermediate classes and above.

What would you do in these situations?

1. Unpaid bill

You are on a business trip by yourself, and in a country and city where you have no friends or family. You have gone to dinner by yourself, and had a lovely meal at a restaurant.

When you are finished your meal, you discover that you have left your wallet / purse somewhere, possibly at the office or in your hotel. Both of which are at least 20 minutes away.

To make matters worse, you discover your cellphone’s battery is flat, and you can’t remember any phone numbers. You also don’t have any written contact details for any of your friends, family or colleagues. You always thought, “Who needs them – my smart phone is my brain!”

Of course, the restaurant wants to be paid, and they have threatened to call the police.

What do you do?

2. Family or best friend?

A rich chocolate bundt cake with a coffee glazeA family member, who normally lives overseas, is in town for only one day. You have made arrangements to take them out to dinner.

On the day that you were meant to go out, you suddenly remember, you promised to go to your best friend’s birthday party. And you had promised to bring her favourite cake.

It is a big party for a special birthday, and it means a lot to your best friend (it’s their 21st, 50th or 80th birthday, depending on your age!)

What do you do?

3. Free long term storage?

You agreed to store your daughter’s furniture and possessions after she sold her house and was looking for a new one.  Your garage, backyard and home office/spare room is full – you can’t use these areas.

Unfortunately, there was a big fight between you, and she stopped talking to you.  She doesn’t answer the telephone or respond to text messages or emails. Even other family members can’t contact her!

Several months ago, you find out through friends of friends that she has found a new place. But no one knows the address or the new telephone number. She isn’t listed in the directories.

You need to be able to use the spare room as you have guests from overseas arriving in a couple of months.

What do you do?

4. Booked out!

You are on a holiday in Japan, by yourself, and are waiting at the train station to take you to your next destination. You are looking forward to visiting this next town, as it has many old temples, craft workshops and samurai houses.

Fallen statue in Fukushima, after the earthquakeSuddenly the station shakes and people around you scream. It’s a strong earthquake.

The vending machines and lights rock wildly for about 2 minutes. It’s your first earthquake, and you think that it wasn’t too bad – nothing broke at the station.

You wait. And wait.

But your train doesn’t come. The railway employees are too busy to try to talk to you in English, and you don’t know any Japanese. Eventually, someone tells you that the trains have been cancelled. You don’t know when they will run again.

So you try to catch a bus, and wait in line. For two hours.

When you get to the front, you discover that the buses are also not running. You are stuck here for at least one night.

Phone lines are all blocked due to too many people using it. You can’t make calls on both public phones or your cellphone.

You walk to all the hotels that you can see around the main station area, but they are all booked out. You also need to cancel your hotel booking in the next town, or they will charge your credit card.

What do you do?

Have you been in any tricky situations?

Think of your own difficult situation – it could be true or imaginary.

Let me know your solutions to the problems above and/or your tricky situation in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. These are some good situations to use in class. I also go to problem pages and get some examples for my students to solve. It’s great for giving advice and using the modal verbs that you mentioned.

    To take it further you can give these situations but talk about them in the past. Say what this person or you did in all of these situations (something that wasn’t the best thing to do) and ask them what you should have done, or could have done, or what they would have done. Using these modals in the past is tricky for most students and they need a lot of practice.

    • Definitely a great extension for modals in the past – thanks Jack!
      Luckily the modals mostly match the German equivalents, even in the past. On the other hand, past perfect and the more complex conditional sentences regularly trip my upper-intermediate students.

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