10 Teacher Tested Tricks to Teach Modal Verbs

10 Teacher Tested Tricks to Teach Modal Verbs

10 Teacher Tested Tricks to Teach Modal Verbs

Teaching modal verbs can be a challenge, especially to beginning teachers who don’t have enough experience.

Before teaching them, however, be sure to know what a modal verb is. It is a verb that cannot work without another verb. These include can, will, must, ought to, may, would, could, should and shall. It can be tricky when attempting to get the message of these particular verbs across to the student, so it is important to plan the class carefully. Always remember that it is important to keep the students engaged. They need to be able to keep focus (since grammar, for the most part, isn’t considered to be fun for most students). Learning intricate rules can be boring and time consuming for many, so a lot of teachers tend to disregard this method of teaching. Of course, in some cases, it might be easier to explain how something works grammatically and then give an example. There is are many possible options available, and it is also important for the teachers themselves to remember that with a little bit of imagination, any activity can be made to serve a purpose.

10 Tricks That Will Help You Teach Modal Verbs

  1. 1

    Encourage Use of Modals

    Getting the students to use modal verbs in speech shouldn’t be too difficult. Pose various questions such as, “What will you do tonight?” The student will then be likely to answer with, “I will watch TV.” Retort with, “What should you do tonight?” The appropriate answer should then be, “I should do my homework.” Simple questions like this will allow the students to use them more and get them into their heads more easily.

  2. 2

    Point Out Mistakes

    When speaking or writing, it is always important to point out mistakes. For small ones, this is easy to forget. Particularly for beginner teachers, one might not want to do this for a number of reasons. Perhaps they feel bad about constantly interrupting the student when he or she is speaking. Regardless, it is important to make sure that they are aware of where they went wrong in order for them to improve. See our other article ‘5 Non-Verbal Ways to Do Error Correction’.

  3. 3

    Practice and Repeat

    When it comes to language learning, repetition is definitely the key. Telling a story or reading an article will probably help in this regard. Post questions as to why a specific modal goes in one place, rather than another. This will get them thinking about the logic that goes with it.

  4. 4

    Fill in the Blanks Exercise

    Often a very simple way of teaching any form of grammar structure. The students will then have to think about why a specific verb goes in certain places. Try and get them to construct their own sentences as well.

  5. 5

    Advice Column

    This can be a very effective method. Try and print off articles from the Internet which come from magazine advice columns and agony aunt pages. By reading this, one will be able to highlight the importance of modals and point out where they are used most frequently.

  6. 6

    Tell a Story

    Another great method is in the art of storytelling. Allow the students to make up their own story. Get them to put the character in specific situations, whereby they will have a choice between, for example, what they should do and what they can’t do.

  7. 7

    Travel Tips

    Another exercise would be to read an article or travel document about a specific area. This will often be filled with plenty of modals for students to practice on.

  8. 8

    Asking for Directions Role Play

    A directions role play often helps. When the students are proficient enough, get them to construct their own using the modals. This will give them a chance to show off their production skills.

  9. 9


    Putting a sentence on the board, such as, “Larry walked into the warehouse and found a dead body.Get the students to find a conclusion e.g.: “There might have been a killer on the loose.” “Someone may have had an accident.” Etc.

  10. 10


    Song is of course another great way of teaching language. Have a look for some catchy tunes on the Net, as there are plenty that are rife with modal verbs. Teaching them to students will add a little bit of fun to the class and allow them to practice using the modals as well! See our section ‘ESL Songs For Teaching English’ for some ideas.

All of these little tricks can help your students become a bit more interested in the subject at hand. Turning something into a challenge or a competition usually works well and helps the students to flex their mental muscles. As always, remember to tailor them towards the specific age group you are teaching. And of course don’t forget to check out our own section with plently of worksheets on modal verbs!

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