Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘perfect infinitive’

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:


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.


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:


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):


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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