English Learner Article How to teach like and would like

Summary: Teaching ideas for presenting and practising the differences between “like” for preferences and “would like” for desires etc, including many speaking games.

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“Like” in “I like hiking” and “would like” in “I’d like to change jobs” have completely different meanings but are often confused by students. This and the fact that they are both useful expressions that students should get used to using more generally makes contrasting the two forms something that is well worth a lesson or two. This article gives hints on how to present and practice both in the same lessons, starting with a summary of the meanings and uses of each form. 

“Like” in sentences like “I like skiing” is very similar to “enjoy”, including being followed by verb + ing (in British English). This meaning is usually called “talking about (present) preferences” and grouped with expressions like “love”, “adore”, “I’m keen on” and “I’m (really) into” and contrasted with “dislike”, “hate”, “loathe”, etc. It can be illustrated with a picture of someone doing something and enjoying it, e.g. smiling while they eat an ice cream. The functions of talking about preferences are many but include finding things in common and finding out information before making a recommendation. Questions, negatives and short answers of “like” are made in the typical ways for any Present Simple verb, adding “do” in “(Wh…) do you like?”, “I don’t like…”, “Yes, I do” and “No, I don’t”. Its past form is also regular (“liked”). Due to its meaning of a preference that is generally true, it is also often put with “used to” to talk about past preferences (“I used to like sweets but I hardly ever eat them now” etc).

Although “like” doesn’t mean enjoy in “I like to go the dentist once every three months”, that meaning of things that you think are best to do is so obscure that it should probably be completely ignored, or at least left until much later than the more important point of contrasting the enjoy meaning of “like” and the totally different meanings of “would like”.

“Would like” is most similar to “want”, including being followed by to + infinitive. Like “want”, it is used to talk about desires and ambitions, and it also has the functions of inviting, offering and making requests. This can be illustrated with a thought bubble showing someone dreaming of doing something. Unlike the use of “like” to talk about preferences that are generally true, “would like” is used to talk about right now, a point in the future (such as “for dinner tonight”) or the future more generally. Due to its future meaning, it is often used to talk about things that people haven’t experienced before (although “Would you like to… again?” is also a fairly common question). In common with the more general meaning of “would” (and unlike “want”), it is also sometimes used to talk about unlikely, impossible or imaginary situations in sentences like “Would you like to change gender?” The formation of questions, negatives and short answers also follows “would” sentences more generally, being “(Wh…) would you like…?”, “I wouldn’t like…”, and “Yes, I would”/ “No, I wouldn’t”. As “would” is already the past of “will”, there is no actual past form of “would”. Instead, it is followed by the perfect infinitive to make the form “would have liked to…”.

To summarise, the main differences between “like” and “would like” are:

- similar to “enjoy”, including being followed by verb + ing (in British English)/ similar to “want”, including being followed by to + infinitive

- used to talk about preferences, for example when finding things in common or preparing to make an offer or suggestion/ used to talk about desires and ambitions, make requests, invite people and make offers

- used to talk about things that people have already experienced and so have feelings about/ often used to talk about things that people haven’t experienced yet

- used to talk about things that are generally true in the present/ often used to talk about right now or the future (either at one point in time or more generally)

- questions, negatives and short answers include “do”/ questions, negatives and short answers include “would”

- has a regular Past Simple form (“liked”)/ past form similar to many modal verbs (“would have liked”)

- often used with “used to”/ cannot be used with “used to” (due to not meaning something that is generally true)

You can contrast “prefer”/ “would prefer”, “love”/ “would love”, “hate”/ “would hate” etc in similar ways.

In class, the easiest way of eliciting the most important of these differences is with questions that can only sensibly take one of the two forms (or at least can only sensibly take one of them for a people in particular situation) such as“Do you like studying English?” and “Would you like to visit the space station?” If we change those questions round, the first question becomes “Would you like to study English?” meaning “Do you want to study English?”, to which the only sensible answer is “Actually, I’m doing that right now”. The other one becomes “Do you like visiting the space station?”, meaning “Do you enjoy visiting the space station?”, to which the only natural response is “Obviously, I’ve never visited the space station (but I would like to).”

Presenting like/ would like

I tend to use the contrasting questions mentioned above in the presentation stage of my lessons on this grammar point, most often by getting students to communicate with the forms straightaway and then getting them to remember and analyse them. To do it that way, you need to put together at least five questions of each kind, all of which wouldn’t make any sense for that group of students in the other form. You should also ensure that at least some of the phrases include hints to their contrasting meanings such as present and future time expressions like “on Saturdays” and “for dinner today”. After asking and answering questions from the list, students try to fill in the correct forms in blanked versions of those questions such as “_____________________ be/ being really rich?” and “_________________ live/ living in this town?” from their memory or grammar knowledge. Alternatively, at that stage you can give them mixed sensible and silly versions of the questions like “Would you like to move house?” and “Do you like having superpowers?” to correct. You can then elicit the differences in meaning and uses between the two forms.

Classroom practice activities for contrasting like and would like

Like and would like making suitable questions

Blanked versions of “like” and “would like” questions can also of course be used as a practice activity. I would generally do so by asking students to choose a question, decide which of the two forms makes sense with that question, and ask the completed question for their partner to answer (truthfully). For most classes it is best to prepare things to make questions about for which only one of the two forms make sense such as “own a helicopter” for “would like” and “ride a bicycle” for “like”. However, it can also be good to add some things for which they need to guess something about their partner before asking. For example, if the topic is “motorbike”, they need to think about what experiences their partner is likely to have had before deciding whether to ask “Would you like to ride a motorbike?” and “Do you like riding a motorbike?” For that kind of activity, you might want to give them responses that they can use if the question doesn’t make sense like “Actually, I’ve already done that” and “Actually, I’ve never tried”.

Like and would like Make me say Yes

Guessing which kind of question is most suitable can also be turned into a game. Give students topics for which they might have different preferences and experiences such as “travel” and “adventure sports”, and/ or more specific examples of those things like “visit (other) Asian countries” and “roller skate”. They get one point for each positive answer they can get from their partner by asking “Do you like…?” and “Would you like…?” questions, but no points if their partner answers “No, I don’t/ wouldn’t” or “Actually, I’ve already done that/ I’ve never done that”. They should therefore think carefully about what their partner’s likes and dislikes and experiences are likely to be before asking “Would you like to go on a cruise?” or “Do you like watching English videos with no subtitles?” If you want to make the game more challenging, you can get them to choose topics or words at random from a pack of cards.

The same game can also be played with students trying to get “No, I don’t/ wouldn’t” answers with questions like “Do you like taking out the rubbish?” and “Would you like to be a toilet cleaner?” Again, they don’t get points for getting “Actually, I…” answers because they chose the wrong kind of question.

Like and would like Make me say yes and no

Students try to get both a “Yes, I do” and “No, I wouldn’t” question about the same thing, e.g. “Do you like dogs?” then “Would you like to eat a dog?” or “Do you like beer?” then “Would you like to have beer for breakfast?” Getting “Actually, I’ve never done that/ I’ve already done that” answers don’t count as success. As there is a danger of students overusing verbs like “eat” in this game, it is a good idea to give them a list of verbs which they have to use, but only once each.

You can also do something close to the opposite of that game, meaning students trying to get “Actually, I’ve never… but I’d like to” with questions like “Do you like parachuting?”

Like and would like things in common

A simpler game where students try to get positive answers is giving them five minutes to find as many preferences and desires in common with their partner(s) as they can, e.g. that “Both of us would like to study Spanish” and “Both of us like snorkelling”. If you want to make sure that there is a good balance between the two forms, you can give one point for each (unrelated) pair of true “We both like…” and “We’d both like…” sentences. You can also allow or encourage negative things in common such as “Neither of us would like to be Prime Minister”.

Like and would like I’m unique

This is the opposite of the game above, with students trying to find things that they don’t have in common with their partner like “I’d like to be in the army but Juanita wouldn’t” and “I like snakes but Graham doesn’t”. As well as that basic pairwork or small group game, this can also be turned into a mingling activity. Students go around the class trying to find things that are different for him or herself and every other student in the class. If they “like” and someone else “would like” the same thing, this doesn’t count as having something in common and so could still be something unique, and the same is true for things that they “would like” and that other people already “like”.

Someone likes and someone would

Students try to think of things that at least one person in class does and enjoys and at least one other person never does but wants to. to check if that is the case, they then ask the whole class a “Do you like…?” question plus a “Would you like…?” question to those who answer “No, I don’t”, getting one point if both answers are positive for at least one person in the class.

Like and would like family fortunes

Students try to imagine what thing in a particular category the greatest number of students in the class like or would like, then ask a question to check. For example, one group guesses that their classmates’ favourite fruit is pineapple, writes that down secretly, then asks a question to check. The same thing can be done with “would like”, for example by students in one group guessing that most people would like to get (re)married in a church (rather than in the town hall etc, if they had to choose). Students will probably need a list of categories like “foreign food” and “famous people” to help them come up with things they can guess about.

Like and would like classroom statements

Students work in groups to write true statements about the class with “like”/ “would like” and a number of people such as “11 people would like to live abroad” and “13 people like eating shaved ice desserts”. They then ask the class a question to check each statement. For a more controlled and challenging version of this, you can ask the class to write one statement for each number between zero and the number of people in the class (as long as the class is small enough), or at least to make sure each statement is about a different number of people. As “like” is easier than “would like” in this game, you might have to insist on an equal number of each form in their sentences.  

Like and would like suggested desires

Students ask each other about their general preferences and then try to suggest something that someone has never done and would enjoy such as visiting the Seychelles or kite surfing. Categories they could ask try to make suggestions for include travel, volunteering, food, drink, job, study, purchases, technology, nightlife, entertainment, literature and media.

This can also be played with the other person giving the prompt that starts the process of finding out preferences and recommending things. For example, one student says “I’d like to change job” and the other ask them about their preferences and experiences until they can recommend a job that they’ve never tried and would like. The same thing can be done with “like” prompts, for example “I like cheese” ending up with the recommendation “I think you’d like/ love stilton”.

Like and would like sentence completion guessing game

Give students at least fifteen gapped sentences which have or could have “like” or “would like” in them such as “I’ve never_______________ and I wouldn’t like to” and “I would like to __________________ on my own”. Students fill at least half of the gaps to make true sentences. They read out one of the things they have written (just that part, not the whole sentence) and their partners try to guess which sentence they wrote that in.

Like and would like bluffing games

Students say a true or false sentence with “like” or “would like” such as “I like keeping a snake as a pet” and “I would like to own my house one day”. After answering three questions to get more details such as “Why?” (during which they continue telling the truth or lying in their answers), their partners guess if they were bluffing or not.

This game can also be played with blanked sentences for students to fill with true or false information such as “I would like to ___________________ but not with my family”.

Like and would like guessing game

Students choose an action like “box” or “go camping” and give hints without saying the name until their partner guesses what they are talking about. At least the first few hints should be statements about their and other people’s preferences and desires with “like” and “would like” such as “I like doing this, but I’m not sure if you would” and “Most people enjoy doing this but some think that they wouldn’t like it before they try it”. Students will probably need some possible topics and clues they could use to give them ideas.  

Like and would like personality questionnaires

Students choose one personality word or similar expression like “ambitious”, “satisfied with their life”, “self-starter” and “open minded” and write a multiple choice questionnaire to test how much people have that trait, giving them a score between one and ten depending on their answers. If you choose the words that they are testing for carefully, “like” and “would like” should come into this naturally without having to push their use. When they have written their questionnaires they test them out on students from other groups, with those students commenting on the questionnaires and scores once they have answered the questions and heard what that is supposed to mean.  

Like and would like dating profiles

Tell students to write imaginary dating profiles with “like” and “would like”, telling them they must strike a good balance, being original but not weird. Groups then choose the profiles in the class which are most likely to be successful.

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Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com