I’ll admit it, modal verbs used to scare me. I’d see the term in my scope and sequence and think, “I can’t teach that!” Then, as time went by, I came to realize that I can teach modal verbs, and my students can learn them without stress. Modal verbs are no different than any other grammar concept, they just require practice, and what better way to practice than with games?
I’ve talked about one of our favorite modal verb practice games, It Might Be…, in a previous blog post. A sample of the game is also included in the reading section of English Skillology, level three. I won’t repeat myself here, but I will say that this is a favorite game of my more advanced students, and a great way to practice some vocabulary as well.
The game that I use the most, especially with beginners, is Modal Verb Board Game. In this simple board game, students use the contents of the square they land on, along with the modal verb indicated (based on the number rolled), to make a sentence. For example, if the student rolled a 5, the indicated modal is “have to.” Let’s pretend the student landed on the square that says “school.” The student might say, “I have to listen carefully at school.” What I like about the game is that it can be played with various proficiency levels. Beginning students may state very simple, formulaic sentences. Intermediate students can offer more complicated sentences, and not be allowed to repeat something another player said. Advanced students can be asked to speak for 30 seconds, or more, using the verb and noun indicated.
This game has a digital version as well. The game board and play is exactly the same, only instead of using a physical number cube, students “roll” by using the specially scripted dice menu my husband wrote for me. The students like all playing simultaneously and placing their sentences in the chat. This works well, and I’m able to read them and make corrections where necessary.
As long as we’re talking about modal verbs, I have a confession to make. One of my grammar pet peeves (we all have them) is the use of the verb can instead of may. Yes, I have been that teacher. The one who answered the question, “Can I go to the bathroom?” with, “I don’t know, can you?” Or my other favorite response, “I assume you have the ability to go to the bathroom, but I have no direct knowledge of the subject.” As a former middle school teacher the rolled eyes, stomped feet, and generally annoyed student attitudes in response to this answer never phased me much. In general I try to ignore the misuse of can/may, but when I am teaching modal verbs I like to take the opportunity to teach the difference. We don’t spend a lot of time on it, but we do briefly discuss the proper use of each verb and run through a quick task card set to practice. My middle school students grudgingly indulge me, my adult students are a little more appreciative.
The last game I use for practicing modal verbs, Making Polite Suggestions, also provides students with the opportunity to practice some health vocabulary as well. Since one of the primary uses for modal verbs is giving advice/suggestions, I decided to design a board game that allows students to practice giving suggestions for how to deal with common health problems. The students draw a card with an ailment on it, use a modal verb to form a sentence giving a suggestion as to what to do for the ailment, and then roll and move. The digital version uses another script my husband wrote me, this one a game play script that has a “roll” function as well as a “draw” a card function. The game does provide a lot of practice using modal verbs, especially could and should. Some of the vocabulary required for the health portions of this game is a little advanced for lower proficiency students, but the pictures do help. I still tend to use this game primarily with intermediate and advanced students though.
While modal verbs are still not on my list of favorite things to teach, they no longer scare me. Since they no longer scare me, they no longer scare my students. We just keep practicing them and in time my students become confident in their usage. Hopefully some of these games will be fun and inspirational for you and your students as well. Happy teaching, everyone.
If you are looking for a great deal, you can get bundles of all the resources mentioned above at a 20% discount. There are three bundles available. The paper bundle includes the paper versions of all four games. The digital bundle includes the digital versions of all four activities. The paper + digital bundle includes both versions of all four activities.