Modal Verbs of Ability - ESL Activities, Games and Worksheets

Ability Bingo

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Game - Reading, Listening and Speaking Activity - Elementary - 25 minutes

In this amusing modal verbs of ability game, students play bingo by finding classmates who have certain abilities. Each student is given a copy of the bingo card. Students go around the classroom asking 'Can you...?' questions in order to find classmates who have the abilities shown on the bingo card, e.g. 'Can you wiggle your ears?' When a student finds someone who answers 'Yes, I can', the student asks the person to demonstrate their ability by performing the task. If the person can demonstrate the ability, the student writes their name in the square on the bingo card and moves on to talk to another person. The first student to get five names in a row, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally shouts 'bingo' and everyone stops. The answers are then checked by asking the five students to perform their abilities to the class. If they do this successfully, the student wins. If not, the game continues. Afterwards, the students continue the game by trying to complete the entire bingo card with names.
 

Can and Can't

ESL Can and Can't Worksheet - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking Activity - Elementary - 20 minutes

This enjoyable can and can't worksheet activity helps to teach students about modal verbs of ability. Each student is given a copy of the worksheet. Students write about their abilities by completing sentences on the worksheet with 'I can' or 'I can't'. When the students have finished, they are divided into pairs. Students then take it in turns to ask about their partner's abilities by asking questions with 'Can you...?', e.g. 'Can you snap your fingers?' Their partner replies 'Yes, I can' or 'No, I can't' accordingly. If their partner replies 'Yes, I can', the student asks their partner to demonstrate the ability if possible.
 

Can you...?

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Activity - Reading, Listening and Speaking - Elementary - 25 minutes

In this engaging activity, students guess whether a partner can or can't do certain things and then ask 'Can you...?' questions to find out if their guesses are right or wrong. The students are divided into pairs (A and B) and each student is given a corresponding worksheet. Working alone, students guess whether their partner can or can't do the things listed on their worksheet by circling 'can' or 'can't' in each sentence. When the students have finished, they take it in turns to find out if their guesses are right or wrong by asking their partner 'Can you...?' questions, e.g. 'Can you draw a square and a circle at the same time?' Students put a tick or cross in the last column on the worksheet, depending on whether their guess was right or wrong. If possible, students ask their partner to demonstrate their ability. The student who guessed the most correct answers wins. Afterwards, students tell the class about their partner, e.g. 'I talked to Pam. She can spell the teacher's full name, but she can’t play the piano', etc.
 

Crazy Abilities

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Game - Speaking Activity - Elementary - 25 minutes

This fun modal verbs of ability game is based on the card game Crazy Eights. In the game, students say what ability or skill two things have in common using the modal verb 'can'. Each group of three is given a set of cards. Each player receives six cards containing pairs of items. The first player chooses one of their cards, lays it on the table, and directs a question to the second player, e.g. 'What can a penguin and a duck do?' If the second player gives an acceptable answer (e.g. They can both swim.), he or she lays down a card and directs a question to the third player. If the answer is not accepted, then the second player is not allowed to lay down a card, but the third player is. The game proceeds from there. The first player to lay down all their cards wins the game. This game also contains wild cards that can be used at any point during the game to delay other players from winning.
 

Fibber

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Game - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking Activity - Elementary - 25 minutes

In this amusing worksheet activity, students play a true or false guessing game about their abilities. Each student is given a copy of the worksheet. Students complete statements on their worksheet with true and false information about their abilities. When the students have finished, they are divided into pairs. The students then take it in turns to read out a true or false statement about their ability. Their partner asks up to three follow-up questions to help them decide whether the student's statement is true or false. Their partner then makes their guess and the student reveals the answer. Students score one point for each correct guess. The student with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 

Fun Ability Test

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Activity - Reading, Writing and Speaking - Elementary - 35 minutes

Here is an enjoyable modal verbs of ability activity to help students practice 'can' and 'can't'. In the activity, students try to complete various challenges and fill in a chart to show what members of their group can and can't do. The class is divided into groups of three and each group is given a copy of the worksheet. The students write their names next to the first challenge on the worksheet and then take it in turns to try to complete the challenge. Students put a tick in the 'can' and 'can't' column next to their name, depending on whether they completed the task successfully or not. The students then repeat the procedure for the other challenges and complete the chart. When the students have finished, they write a summary of what their group can and can't do. After the students have completed their summaries, they read them to the class and discuss which challenges were the most difficult to do.
 

Prove It!

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Activity - Reading, Listening and Speaking - Elementary - 25 minutes

In this entertaining can and can't activity, students try to complete mind-body coordination tasks, body teasers and fun speaking exercises to prove their abilities. Each student is given a copy of the worksheet. The students move around the classroom asking 'Can you...?' questions from the prompts on the worksheet, e.g. 'Can you pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time?' When a classmate answers 'Yes, I can', the student asks them to prove their ability. If the classmate can complete the task, the student writes their name in the 'Name' column on the worksheet and moves on to speak to someone else. When everyone has finished, the students are invited to demonstrate their abilities to the class.
 

The Leftorium

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Elementary - 30 minutes

In this rewarding modal verbs of ability activity, students try completing certain tasks with their left hand. Students then ask and answer questions about their left-handed abilities using 'can' and 'can't'. The class is divided into groups of four and each student is given a copy of the worksheet. The students are told to imagine that they are in the Leftorium with Ned Flanders from the Simpsons and that Ned has given them some tasks to do, using only their left hand. Students then put their right hand behind their back and attempt each task on the worksheet in turn. If the students are able to do the task with just their left hand, they write 'Yes, I can' next to the task. If the students are unable to do the task, they write 'No, I can’t'. When everyone has finished, the students interview the people in their group and ask questions about their ability to do the tasks. The students write their classmates' answers on the worksheet using the third-person singular. Afterwards, students give feedback to the class on the tasks they can and can't do.
 

Ability Bluff

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Game - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate - 30 minutes

In this entertaining worksheet activity, students play a true or false game to practice modal verbs of ability and expressions with 'be able to'. The class is divided into two groups (A and B) and each student is given a corresponding worksheet. Students complete the worksheet with true or false information about their abilities as indicated. Students also think of a brief personal story about each ability to tell a partner. When the students are ready, they pair up with someone from the other group. The students then take it in turns to talk about an ability and tell a story. Their partner's task is to listen and ask follow-up questions to help them decide if the student is telling the truth or bluffing. Their partner then makes their guess and the student reveals the answer. Students win one point for each correct guess. The student with the most points at the end of the game wins. Afterwards, students report back to the class on the best bluffs.
 

Can and Could

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Activity - Reading, Listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate - 25 minutes

In this insightful can and could activity, students find out about their classmates' past and present abilities. The class is divided into groups of up to ten. Each student is given a card. The students are responsible for finding out the information on their card by speaking to everybody in their group. The students then go around their group finding out about their classmates' past and present abilities by asking questions with 'Can you...?' and 'Could you...?' Students put a tick on the back of the card each time a classmate answers 'Yes, I can' or 'Yes, I could'. If possible, the classmate should also prove their ability by completing the task on the card. When everyone has finished, the students sit down in their groups and take it in turns to talk about the information they found out. Afterwards, students give feedback to the class on their findings.
 

How well can you…?

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate - 30 minutes

In this intriguing worksheet activity, students practice talking about skills and levels of ability using modal verbs and adverbs of manner. The students are divided into pairs (A and B) and each student is given a corresponding worksheet. Students take it in turns to ask their partner 'Can you...?' questions and mark their responses on the worksheet. When their partner replies 'Yes, I can', the student asks a 'How well can you...?' question. Their partner responds with one of six phrases on the board that express their level of ability and the student ticks the appropriate 1 to 6 box on the worksheet. If their partner replies 'No, I can't', the student moves onto the next 'Can you...? question. When everyone has finished, the students form new A and B pairs and write the name of their new partner’s former partner on the worksheet. The students then ask and answer questions about their new partner’s former partner using the third person singular, e.g. 'Can he swim?' When the students have finished, they complete sentences at the bottom of the worksheet with information about the students' levels of ability.
 

Past and Present Abilities

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Game - Listening and Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate - 30 minutes

In this fun can and could activity, students play a true or false guessing game about past and present abilities. The students are divided into groups of three. Each group is given a set of cards, which they shuffle and place face down in a pile on the desk. Students then take it in turns to pick up a card and use the prompt on the card to ask a question to the other students about a past or present ability. For example, if the prompt read 'sleep during the day', the student might ask 'Can you sleep during the day?' or 'Could you sleep during the day when you were a child?' The other students can either give a true or false answer. The student with the card then asks follow-up questions to work out if the other students are lying or telling the truth. The student then makes a guess for each student and the correct answers are revealed. For each correct guess, the student wins a point. The game continues until all the cards have been used. The student with the most points at the end of the game wins.
 

What could they do?

ESL Modal Verbs of Ability Activity - Writing, Listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate - 25 minutes

In this teaching activity, students ask and answer questions about four people’s past abilities using could, couldn't and adverbs of degree. The students are divided into pairs (A and B) and each student is given a corresponding worksheet. The worksheet contains information about four people when they were twenty. It shows what they could do and how well. The students take it in turns to ask and answer questions about the four people’s past abilities and complete missing information in a chart on their worksheet. When the students have finished, they write a paragraph about what they could do at a certain age.
 

What's missing?

ESL Be Able to Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate - 25 minutes

In this enjoyable 'be able to' activity, students complete sentences with the correct form of 'be able to' and a verb. The class is divided into pairs (A and B). Each student is given a corresponding worksheet, containing incomplete sentences. The students' task is to complete the sentences in bold with the correct form of 'be able to' and a verb. Their partner has the completed sentences on their worksheet. Student A begins by reading the first sentence to Student B, adding in the appropriate form of 'be able to' and the verb. Student A must say the exact sentence that Student B has on their worksheet. If the guess is correct, Student A moves onto the next sentence. If not, Student A tries again. When Student A has completed all the sentences correctly, the students swap roles. Afterwards, the pairs discuss how they would reply to each sentence.
 
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