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Modal Verbs of Ability, Possibility and Certainty - ESL/EFL Teaching Activities

Ability Bingo

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Elementary - 25 Minutes

In this entertaining teaching activity, students circulate, asking questions about the abilities of other students in order to fill in a Bingo Card. This fun resource teaches students to ask and answer questions using the modal verb of ability can. Students have to demonstrate their ability if possible. The first student to get five names in a row wins.

Ability Bingo.PDF


Can and Can't

ESL/EFL Writing Activity - Elementary - 15 Minutes

Teach your students about the modal verbs of ability can and can't with this helpful worksheet. Students complete sentences using can and can't to talk about everyday abilities.


Can and Can't.PDF


Can and Could

ESL/EFL Writing Activity - Elementary - 20 Minutes

The following link will take you to an effective worksheet for teaching and explaining can and could. The students begin by reading about the different functions of the modal verb can. Students read through some examples sentences showing each function. Then, they are presented with ten sentences. Students decide how can is used in each sentence, e.g. to express ability, willingness, permission or possibility. After that, students look at the functions of the modal verb could. Again they are shown examples of each function. Then, they choose the appropriate modal verb (can or could) in a list a sentences.

Can and Could.PDF


Can you...?

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Elementary - 30 Minutes

Students learn to talk about their abilities using modal verbs with this engaging speaking task. Students work individually and try to guess if their partner can or can't do the activities listed on their worksheet. When they have finished, students ask their partner if they have the ability to do the listed activities. For each statement, students have guessed correctly, they receive one point. Students then come to the front of the class and tell the other students about their partner.

Can you...?.PDF


Crazy Abilities

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Elementary - 20 Minutes

This teaching activity is based on the card game Crazy Eights. The students have to think about what the pairs of items on the cards have in common in terms of skills or abilities, and express that using the modal verb can. Students work in groups of three. The students take it in turns to lay down cards on the table. Each card contains two pairs of items. The student with the card directs a question using the target language to the player on their right. If the player can express what ability or skill the two things have in common, they get the chance to put a card down and ask a question. This game also contains wild cards that can be used at any point during the game. The first player to get rid of all of his or her cards wins the game.

Crazy Abilities.PDF


Find Someone Who Can

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Elementary - 25 Minutes

This productive ESL activity is ideal for teaching students how they can ask and answer questions about ability using modal verbs. Students have a list of different abilities on their worksheet. Students have to find someone who possesses each distinct ability. The students ask each other various Can you...? questions. When a student responses with a Yes, I can answer, the student demonstrates they have the ability and the other student writes their name down on the worksheet.

Find Someone Who Can.PDF



ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Elementary - 25 Minutes

Here is an appealing guessing game to help students practice can for talking about ability. Each student is given a copy of the worksheet. Students complete sentences with information about their abilities. They write some sentences which are true and some which are false. They also tick either the true or false box after each sentence, to confirm which are which. Students then work with a partner. They take it in turns to say their sentences. The other student has to decide if the sentence is true or false. Students score one point if they guess correctly. One point is awarded to their partner, if they guess incorrectly. At the end, they tally up the points to find the winner.



Fun Ability Test

ESL/EFL Writing and Speaking Activity - Elementary - 45 Minutes

You can use this enjoyable activity to teach your students about the modal verbs of ability can and could. To start the activity, the class is separated into teams of three. Each team is given a worksheet that contains ten amusing challenges. The students try out each challenge in their teams and fill in a chart showing what the members of the team can and can’t do. When the groups have completed all the challenges, the students write a summary of what they could and couldn’t do. Then, they report back to the class on their abilities.

Fun Ability Test.PDF


Guess the Place or Situation

ESL/EFL Writing and Speaking Activity - Elementary - 40 Minutes

This imaginative ESL resource will aid you in teaching your students ways to use the modal verbs of ability and possibility to talk about places and situations. For this activity, students work in pairs. Each pair is handed a place or situation to describe. The pairs create five sentences by using the modal verbs of ability and possibility to depict the place/situation on their card. Once all the students have completed their sentences, pairs present their sentences to the class. The other students in the class try to guess the places or situations described. 

Guess the Place or Situation.PDF


How well can you…?

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Elementary - 30 Minutes

Students talk about people’s skills and varying levels of ability using the modal verb can in this inventive speaking exercise. The class is split up into twos. Each pair is given two different worksheets. In the first part of the teaching activity, students ask Can you...? questions and reply using Yes, I can or No, I can’t. The responses are recorded on the worksheet. If a Yes answer is given, the students continue on to the second part of the question How well can you...? The response is again marked on the worksheet depending on which of six phrases the student used. When everyone has finished, the students form new pairs. This time they ask about their new partner's first partner using the third person. The students try to guess the answers before they begin. 

How well can you …?.PDF

Modal Verbs of Ability - Lesson Plan

ESL/EFL Lesson Plan - Elementary - 1 Hour +

This entertaining lesson is aimed at elementary students. The focus of the lesson is the modal verb of ability: can. The lesson starts by showing the students a picture of some superheroes. A poll is then taken to see which superhero the students like the most. After the poll, the students are shown the trailer of "Superman - Man of Steel" to get them involved in the topic of super powers. After watching the video, students work together in pairs to answer true or false statements about the video. This is followed by a gap-fill on the board where students make sentences about what different superheroes can and can't do. Next, each student is given a piece of paper and some coloured pencils and asked to draw their own superhero. Under their picture, the students write about their new superhero's powers using modal verbs of ability. Finally, the students work in pairs. They ask and answer questions about the abilities of their new superheroes. At the end, the new superheroes are displayed on the classroom wall for the other students to see.

Modal Verbs of Ability - Lesson Plan.PDF


The Day Trip

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Elementary - 25 Minutes

Here is a great activity for practicing modal verbs of possibility. In this card game, students practice making may/might sentences about things they are going to take with them on a day trip. The students are told to imagine that they are on holiday and that they are going to go out for the day and must say what they are going to take and why. In groups of three, students take it in turns to take a picture card and try to make a correct sentence using I'm going to ... because + might or may ..., e.g. I'm going to take a camera because I may/might want to take some photos. If a student makes a correct sentence, they keep the card. If they don't, the card is put back at the bottom of the pile. The winner is the student with the most cards at the end of the game.

The Day Trip.PDF


What's that noise?

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Elementary - 20 Minutes

This amusing guessing game teaches students how to use modal verbs of possibility and certainty in an authentic situation. The teacher places some everyday objects behind a screen at the front of the class. The class members are then separated into two teams. One volunteer operates one of the objects behind the screen. The teams take it in turns to guess what they think the object could be. Each time a team makes a guess, they use a modal verb of possibility by saying "It could/may/might be a ..." If a team is very certain what the object is, the team uses a modal verb of certainty by saying "It must be a ..." Teams have points added and subtracted for right and wrong answers.

What's that noise?.PDF


Ability Bluff

ESL/EFL Writing and Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate - 30 Minutes

In this compelling teaching activity, students play a bluffing game to practice the language of talking about ability. The class is split into two groups, A and B. The students to sit together with the people in their group. Each student is then given the appropriate half of the worksheet. The students complete the information on their worksheet with either true or false information as indicated. When the students have finished, they sit face to face with someone from the other group. The students take it in turns to talk about what they have written on their worksheet. Their partner asks questions and tries to work out if they are telling truth or bluffing. When everyone has finished, the students report back on any surprising abilities or best bluffs.

Ability Bluff.PDF


Can & Could

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate - 20 Minutes

For this teaching activity, class members have to go around the classroom and find out about other student's past and present abilities. They do this by asking and answering questions using the modal verbs of ability can and could.

Can & Could.PDF


Jon's Story

ESL/EFL Writing and Speaking Activity- Pre-intermediate - 30 Minutes

This intriguing ESL activity helps to generate discussion using modal verbs of possibility. To begin, the class reads about a dilemma between a boyfriend and girlfriend. The students then answer questions about what it's possible for each person to do in the story. They answer the questions using the modal verbs of possibility could, may and might. Afterwards, the students have a class discussion based upon the dilemma in the story as well as their answers to the questions.

Jon's Story.PDF


Modal Mania

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate - 30 Minutes

This speaking task is perfect for reviewing modal verbs. The activity covers modal verbs of ability, obligation, prohibition and possibility. The class is split into groups of four. Each student has five picture cards. There are also modal verb cards placed face down in a pile. Students pick up a modal verb card and try to match it with one of their picture cards. The student then has to explain how the two cards match to the other players. Students can be as creative as they like in order to convince the other players.

Modal Mania.PDF


Past and Present Abilities

ESL/EFL Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate - 30 Minutes

In this fun speaking activity, students ask and answer questions about past and present abilities. Students are divided into groups of four and each group is given a set of cards. Students take it in turns to take a card. The student with the card then decides if they are going to ask about the past or present. They then ask the other students in their group about their abilities, using the prompt on the card. The other students can either lie or tell the truth. The student who asked the question must then ask follow-up questions to work out if the other students are lying or telling the truth. Students win one point for each correct guess. Each group plays until all the cards have been used up. Then, the students tally up the points to see who the winner is.

Past and Present Abilities.PDF


Possibility and Probability

ESL/EFL Lesson - Intermediate - 1 Hour

Here is a link to a rewarding lesson that helps students to practice or review the modal verbs may, might, could, must and can’t to express possibility and probability. The lesson also helps students to extend their vocabulary for expressing probability. The lesson comprises of two worksheets and several writing exercises that help students master the use of these modal verbs.

Possibility and Probability.PDF


You can also find modal verb teaching resources on the pages below:

Asking Permission & Making Requests

Future Tense

Giving Advice

Modal Verbs of Obligation, Prohibition and Necessity

Give us a +1 if you like this page


+6 #1 Endy 2014-04-23 17:51
These resources are so helpful. Thanks a lot.

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