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Posts tagged ‘modal verbs’

Spicing up grammar revision

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.
Doing the exercises

Doing the exercises

  • 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 🙂
Pick a card, any card

Pick a card, any card

  • 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!
Making tactical decisions

Making tactical decisions

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!

*I get 10% of anything you spend if you click on the Amazon link and choose to buy something. Thanks in advance!

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Introducing past modals of deduction

London, the Olympics, train ticket

I wrote these on the board.

Based on these words, what did I do at the weekend? Are you 100% sure? How can you show this in your sentences?

I asked these questions. The students worked in groups to come up with one suggestion for each word, which they then put on the board:

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We went through the sentences. Is it grammatically correct? Does it talk about the right time? For example: while “She might visit the Olympic Stadium” is grammatically correct, it refers to the future, not the past. In the process, I introduced the perfect infinitive, formed by ‘have + past participle’. One student asked if she could say “She might went to London.” and we talked about why that wasn’t possible. By introducing the perfect infinitive within the first few sentences, the students were well practised at using it by the end of the lesson.

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This took 45 minutes, including me confirming that I did indeed go to London, and telling them that I lost the return part of my ticket, had to buy a new one – £121 – and then noone checked it (grrr!)

After a brief break, I asked the students to suggest another idea for ‘Olympics’ as none of theirs were correct. I asked them how sure they were, and elicited other words which could be used in place of ‘might’ if you were more or less sure. We also reiterated the form of the perfect infinitive:

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I showed them a picture of me at the Olympics, and they eventually got to the fact that I went to London for a (very enjoyable) reunion with some of my fellow Games Makers.

The students each had a slip of paper. They wrote three words about their weekend on the paper, plus their name, and left it on their desk along with a blank piece of A4 paper.

They circulated, writing a suggestions as to what the other students might/could/must have done at the weekend on the A4 paper, then folding the paper (consequences-style) so noone else could see their sentence.

When they had written on every other piece of paper, they returned to their desks and read what their classmates thought they had done. I asked how close they were. I also pointed out that all of our original modal sentences were with ‘might’, and asked if their paper had a range of modals.

To finish this stage, the students turned the paper over and used the past simple to write what they actually did. They then circulated and read what everyone had written.

As preparation for homework I showed them this picture from eltpics by @elt_pics (Victoria Boobyer):

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As a class, they suggested what could have happened. Once we’d covered the obvious “She might have broken/sprained her ankle.” I asked how? When? Where?

As homework, the students have to find a picture, preferably one that isn’t their own, and suggest what might have happened before it was taken.

What worked

The students were engaged by the personal nature of the activity. They were interested in trying to find out what their classmates did at the weekend. There was quite a lot of movement, catering for more kinaesthetic learners, something which I sometimes forget to do, and changing the dynamic. There was a lot of repetition of the target structure and the context was clear. Perhaps best of all for a busy Monday morning, it required minimal prep time.

What I’d change next time

The stage where we looked at whether the sentences were grammatically/temporally correct dragged a little because it was teacher-centred. I should have done a couple of examples then handed it over to the students.
I decided to use this method because I wanted to see whether the students could produce past modals of infinitive in a context which would definitely prompt them from native speakers. However there wasn’t a very clear reason for students to guess what the others had done. Perhaps I could have set up some kind of contest – find someone with the most similar weekend to you for example. Since a lot of them took advantage of the school trip to Edinburgh, this might not be the best example!

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