One of my advanced students asked if we could do a lesson about the differences between ‘would’, ‘should’ and ‘could’. I looked around but couldn’t find anything that really helped. In the lesson I came up with we ended up looking at them separately in depth, but there wasn’t much comparing and contrasting them, or any controlled practice, as I was pushed for time when planning. I did create one exercise, available below, with the help of the BBC World Service explanation of the differences.
(You can download it by clicking ‘slideshare’ and logging in – it’s free to create an account, and you can link via facebook if you want to.)
Answers: 1. should; 2. would; 3. could; 4. should; 5. should, would; 6. would; 7. should, would; 8. could [he didn't have the ability to finish]; 9. would, could [I would if I could, but I can't so I won't ]; 10. should, could, would
Over three and a half hours (two lessons), this is what happened:
- I taught the class a few items of ‘playing card’ vocabulary, by drawing it on the board: ace, jack, queen, king, diamond, spade, club, heart, suit, picture card. To find out why, keep reading…
- I put students into pairs.
- Each student had three double-page spreads from Scott Thornbury’s Natural Grammar*, one each for ‘would’, ‘should’ and ‘could’. One page had the rules, and the other had exercises.
- The pairs worked together to complete the exercises, and they could do them in any order. As they were advanced students, I didn’t need to present the grammar to them, and they were confident enough to ask me for help whenever they needed it.
- As they completed each exercise, the pairs would come to me (i.e. they did one exercise, I checked it, they did another). I would tell them if they were 100% correct, or if not, how many errors they had, but not where they were. They would then correct the errors. If they still had errors the second time, I would tell them where. After the third time, I would put them right, if it took them that many attempts.
- This is where the cards come in. Once an exercise was 100% correct, the students could take a random card. Between ‘would’, ‘should’ and ‘could’ there were 10 exercises, so once they had completed all of them, they should have 10 cards. This worked perfectly as I had 5 pairs
- It took the students about 3 hours to complete the 12 exercises, with lots of to-ing and fro-ing and a lot of discussion. After that, the students worked together to decide whether the sentences in the worksheet above needed ‘would’, ‘should’ or ‘could’.
- On the board, I drew the symbols for the four suits of playing cards in a random order (e.g. spades, diamonds, clubs, hearts). I also told them that aces = one in this game.
- We then all sat around a single empty table.
- The students had to choose one card from the 10 they had collected during the grammar exercises and place it face down on the table.
- I told them the first answer: ‘should’. If they had the wrong answer, they lost their card completely. If they had the right answer, they could turn it over. The highest number won a point for the sentence (‘trick’). If two teams had the same high number, then the order of the suits on the board was followed (from the list above, the ten of spades would be better than the ten of diamonds, for example).
- We repeated this for the rest of the sentences. When a question had more than one gap, they had to get all of the gaps correct to play for the point. I reminded the students that tactics might be important too, which resulted in one pair winning a point with a 6, because the other pairs had all thrown away 2s and 3s!
I realise that sounds quite complicated, but it went really well. Everyone got really competitive about the cards they selected after each grammar exercise, even though it was completely random! They enjoyed the game and said it made the grammar more interesting.
If you have any ideas for how I could have taught this lesson more usefully in terms of comparing the three modals, particularly for ways of providing freer practice, please please please share them in the comments!
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