Teaching Modals

Teaching Modals is not as simple as it may seem at first sight.

First, we have to work on the meaning of the modal.

We will start with CAN.

CAN shows ability.

We might start the lesson with a class discussion on things we can or cannot do. We may talk about hobbies (play the piano, play tennis, etc.).

I can play the piano, but I am not allowed to do it between two and four in the afternoon.

I cannot go out now. I have too much homework. Can you come over later?

After a short class conversation using the modal can as often as possible, I would suggest using a text where students can see the structure in context and learn what the structure is composed of:

CAN + Base form

It is important to stress the fact that the modal can does not take a helping verb like DO or BE in Interrogative and Negative forms. 

We should also remind our students that the correct spelling in the negative is cannot and not can not. We can naturally avoid the problem by using the contracted form: can't.

Here is a short text you might wish to use in the classroom:

Sharon and Uri are in the ninth grade. Sharon is a bright student, a fine athlete, a good dancer and singer and a gifted pianist. She seems perfect, but she is not. There are many things she can do, but there are also many things she cannot do.The problem is that she is not aware of her faults, but greatly aware of her talents…

The following is typical of the many arguments she often has with her classmates:

Uri:   Can you play tennis?

Sharon:   No, I cannot, but I can play basketball better than anybody else in class.

Uri:   Can you play the guitar?

Sharon:   No, I cannot, but I can play the piano. I assure you, you have never heard anything like that!

Uri:   Can you dance?

Sharon:   Sure. I can dance much better than all my friends.

Uri:   Can you sing as well?

Sharon:   Of course I can. I have a great voice.

Uri:   You obviously have a high opinion of yourself. Do you have many friends?

Sharon:   No, I do not. I wonder why…

The students can act out the dialogue as a role play, analyze the structures and discuss Sharon's personality. 

Homework – Suggestions 

Students may be asked to write a short paragraph at home about things they can or cannot do.

In a similar way we can teach the forms: COULD GO and COULD HAVE GONE.

For more suggestions and exercises, please look at:

The Lively World of English Book 1, p 73-83

The New Language Guidebook and Workbook, p 119 -122.

       and that's all for today.

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