Decision trees

I’m sure you work with family trees in your English classes. But have you heard of decision trees?

A decision tree is a graph that uses a branching method to illustrate every possible outcome of a decision. Decision trees can be drawn by hand or created with a graphics program or specialized software. Informally, decision trees are useful for focusing discussion when a group must make a decision.

As an English teacher, I find them particularly useful for practicing various grammar points, such conditionals and time clauses. They can be personalized easily and they are accessible to students who prefer visuals when learning grammar.


In class, explain what a decision tree is. Show Ss a model. Then ask them to create their own graph. You can ask a question about their future studies (like I did) or any question concerning the future. Decision trees obviously work best with dilemmas.

  • Will you go to the party you’ve been invited to?
  • Will you tell your best friend that you lied to her?
  • Will you cheat during an important exam?

This is how you can exploit a decision tree from a grammatical point of view:

Zero conditional:

If you go to university, you get a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree. If you get an MA, you can get a job or a Ph.D.

First conditional:

If I go to university, I will (might) get an MA – I’m pretty ambitious.

Second conditional:

If I didn’t go to university, I would travel around the word. This is unlikely, though, as I’m pretty ambitious.

Third conditional:

My dad didn’t go to university as he wasn’t very ambitious. If he had gone to university, he would have got an MA and he would have been promoted much earlier.

Time clauses:

  • After I graduate from high school, I will go to university. However, my friend will probably find a job straight away.
  • I hope to get a Ph.D. one day. But before I get my Ph.D., I will obviously have to get an MA.
  • As soon as I get an MA, I will travel a bit.

Decision trees can be effective springboards for speaking classes or valuable aids for writing essays. Just ask a controversial question and get the class to come to a conclusion by going through all the options. Needless to say, you need next to no prep time to make an activity/lesson based on a decision tree. You’ll only need to come up with a couple of thought-provoking question(s) – just in case. But I’m sure your students are inventive enough and always have a few dilemmas up their sleeve.




About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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