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Grammar lesson plan: Modals of possibility, for levels C1+

Grammar lesson plan: Modals of possibility, for levels C1+

Modal verbs are are the bread and butter of every grammar class. Students encounter them at all levels, from foundation to proficiency. In C-level classes, students should be able to recall all types of modal verbs and identify what job they do. Modal verbs can signify ability, probability, advice, request, permission, prohibition, obligation, certainty, and possibility. Of course, teaching students about all nine of these categories in one session would be like drinking water from a firehose. So I’ve provided three learning activities aimed to engage C-level students and develop their fluency of modals of possibility. It’s important that students are equipped with useful phrases, expressions that they can actually use.

Part 1: Warm up

1. Write these sentences on the whiteboard and ask students to work in pairs to explain what they mean in their own words. Monitor students for five minutes.

2. Select volunteers to explain each sentence. Based on your monitoring, choose some students that you noticed were correct and a few that were incorrect. Confirm/correct meaning and allow students time to write down any notes.

(Teacher notes in red)

  • “You could learn a thing or two.” You might gain experience/knowledge

  • “The two racers are neck and neck. It could go either way.” Both racers can win

  • “I can’t stand you!” You are being annoying/irritating

  • “Whenever I see gelato I can’t help myself!” I cannot resist eating it

  • “I can’t wrap my head around it.” I cannot understand the concept/idea

  • “Would you mind taking out the trash.” Please take out the trash

  • “I can’t hack it.” I’m not qualified enough to complete this task

  • “You should have known better than to trust him.” You were not supposed to trust him

3. Ask students if they can guess the topic of the lesson. If they guess modal verbs, elicit all the modal verbs that they know. Tell them you will be focusing on modals used to qualify possibility. Write the following on the whiteboard:







Ought to

May / Might


Part 2: Practice

1. Before class, the teacher writes sentences like these on small, numbered sticky notes and posts them around the room. Leave out the modal in each sentence. Sentences should look something like this:

Justin finished a marathon.

He ___ be tired.

* Must is the only possible answer here because Justin finished a marathon, which means that there is a high possibility (certainty) that he is tired.

Example sentences (remember to blank out the modal verb in each case):

Justin finished a marathon.

He must be tired.

Shall we have supper?

I’ll be over soon. (I will)

I couldn’t go out last night. I had to look after the kids.

Would you mind doing the washing up tonight?

They should arrive within the hour.

The exam ought to be easy.

Might/May I have some of your fries? (formal)

Can I have some? (inf.)

We can try again tomorrow.

2. Allow students to walk around the classroom silently and write down their guesses in a notebook. Once they’ve made their guesses, have them compare with two other students. After that, elicit answers and give them explanations. Correction should take no longer than 2 mins. Make sure that the students have all these sentences written down somewhere in their notebook.

Part 3: Produce

This 30-minute group work activity (3-4 people) requires:

  • Colored pens/markers

  • Paper

  • Wall-friendly tape

1. Ask students to write down a list of well-known destinations in the United States. Let them share their answers with a partner. Ask them which destination they would travel to if they had the chance. Take a minute to get them thinking about the theme: traveling in the U.S.

2. Students are going to plan a 1-week vacation in the United States. In small groups, they will come up with ten possible things that they can do on this trip.

3. All groups must visit four areas of interest, and all groups will be given specific restrictions.

  • One group can only travel within a 200-mile radius from where they landed.

  • One group must stay on the west coast.

  • One group has a budget of $10,000 for the whole trip.

  • One group must visit Las Vegas.

4. The students will compose an itinerary and post it on the wall. It can include designs, drawings, and must be a minimum of 100 words.

Here is a model for students to read before they start:

Itinerary: 1 week in the Pacific Northwest

Group restrictions: Must visit a rainforest / 200 mile travel radius.

Starting off in Seattle, we ought to see the Space Needle first, then Pike Place Market. While we’re there we mustn’t forget to pick up some souvenirs for family back home, or miss the wonder of the famous fish-throwing mongers.

But, we may not want to spend all our time in Seattle. We could take the ferry to Bainbridge Island, which should cost us around $10. It should take around 40 minutes to cross Elliott Bay. From there, we walk north to Puget Sound and can start fishing for oysters, geoducks, and other native marine life.

Olympic National Park can be an intimidating place for first-time visitors. But since we shall have a guide, there’s no need to worry. We certainly won’t miss the mossy trees of Hoh Rainforest, or the twin sea stacks at Rialto Beach.

5. Once groups have finished composing their itinerary, they will tape their itinerary somewhere around the room. Students are given 5 minutes (max) to read the information.

6. To wrap up the lesson, the students must find a new partner and work together to create 9 sentences, employing one modal verb per sentence, about any of the places mentioned. Remind them that cannot take these sentences directly from their own itineraries. Instead, they can stand up and read it off one of the itineraries from around the room.

7. The teacher monitors until the end of the class and answers any final questions.

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