Modals of Obligation and Prohibition ESL Activities, Games and Worksheets

David's Day

ESL Have to Worksheet - Reading and Writing Exercises - Elementary (A1-A2) - 20 minutes

This free modals of obligation worksheet helps to teach students how to express obligation with have to and has to. First, students write sentences about what David has to do today by looking at items on his desk and using verbs and nouns in a box to write sentences with 'has to'. Afterwards, the students write a short paragraph about what they have to do today using 'have to'. The students then read their paragraphs to the class and feedback is given.
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Interactive Version - This modals of obligation interactive worksheet helps students learn how to use 'have to' and 'has to' to express obligation.

 

Who has to do what?

ESL Have to Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Elementary (A1-A2) - 25 minutes

This engaging modals of obligation activity can be used to help students practice have to, has to, don’t have to, and doesn’t have to. In pairs, students begin by asking their partner questions to find out which person on their worksheet has to do which household chore, e.g. 'Does Ethan have to clean the house?' The students complete a table with the answers. When the students have found out who does each household chore, they complete sentences with the correct form of 'have to'. After that, students decide who said different statements about what they have to do. Finally, students write about the household chores they have to do and then tell their partner about them.
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Interactive Version - In this 'have to' breakout room activity, pairs of students practice the different forms of 'have to' in an information gap and writing exercise.

 

Class Contracts

ESL Modal Verbs of Obligation and Prohibition Activity - Reading and Writing - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

In this light-hearted modals of obligation and prohibition activity, students write an imaginary classroom contract for their teacher. In groups, students read the student contract on the worksheet. Next, go through the use of modal verbs of obligation and prohibition in the contract with the students. The students then write a teacher contract about all the rules and regulations they think you should follow. The contract shouldn't be too serious. Instead, encourage the students to create an amusing or imaginative set of rules. When everyone has finished, each group reads out their teacher contract to the class. After each group has presented, you and the group members sign the contract.
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How to...

ESL Modal Verbs of Obligation Game - Reading and Writing Activity - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

In this modals of obligation activity, students complete sentences expressing obligation for 'How to...' topics and then use the sentences in a guessing game. In pairs, students think of six 'How to...' topics and complete six sentences, expressing obligation for each topic, e.g. 'You must...', 'You should...', etc. The pairs then take it in turns to read out their sentences to another pair. The other pair has to guess the 'How to...' topic from the expressions of obligation. For each correct guess, pairs score one point. The pair with the most points wins the game. Afterwards, each pair reads one set of sentences to the class and they try to guess the 'How to...' topic.
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It's Prohibited

ESL Modal Verbs of Prohibition Worksheet - Reading and Writing Exercises - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

In this modals of prohibition worksheet, students practice 'can't', 'mustn't' and 'may not' to communicate prohibited actions in a variety of situations. Students begin by matching prohibited actions with corresponding locations. Next, students read a list of strange old laws from countries around the world. The students then decide if they think the laws are real or not, writing T for true or F for false next to each law. After that, students use expressions from a box to complete the prohibition for each situation shown. In the last exercise, students write three things that are prohibited in their home using can't, mustn't and may not.
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Interactive Version - This modal verbs of prohibition interactive worksheet contains a variety of exercises to help students learn the prohibition modals 'mustn't', 'can't' and 'may not'.

 

It's the Law

ESL Can and Can't Activity - Reading, Listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

Here is a can and can't activity to help students practice 'can' for permission and 'can't' for prohibition. In the activity, students discuss British laws and guess the ages people can and can't do certain things. In pairs, students discuss the British laws on the worksheet, choose one age for each law, and circle it. Each pair then joins with another pair to make a group of four. Each group discusses the British laws and reaches a consensus about the ages people can and can't do the things shown on the worksheet. Afterwards, groups give their answers and the correct age for each law is revealed to the class. The students then discuss which laws surprised them the most. Finally, the groups compare the list of British laws on the worksheet with the laws in their home country.
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Obligation Game

ESL Modal Verbs of Obligation Game - Reading and Writing Activity - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 25 minutes

In this modals of obligation game, students make sentences about what people must do or be if they want to be successful in a particular job. Write the name of a job on the board, e.g. athlete. In teams, students have five minutes to write down as many 'You must...' sentences, expressing things people must do or be if they want to be successful in that particular kind of work, e.g. 'You must train every day'. When the time limit has been reached, the teams swap papers for marking. For each grammatically correct and appropriate sentence, teams score a point. Play several rounds with different jobs and other modal verbs and expressions of obligation, e.g. have to, should and ought to. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
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Perfect People

ESL Must and Mustn't Activity - Writing, listening and Speaking - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 25 minutes

In this free must and mustn't activity, students write and discuss how they would like people to behave in a perfect world using the modals verbs 'must' for obligation and 'mustn't' for prohibition. Working alone, students complete sentences about how they would like different people to behave using 'must' and 'mustn't'. The students then discuss and compare their answers in groups. The students then move on to discuss what qualities each person on the worksheet should have. Afterwards, the groups give feedback to the class on their findings.
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Interactive Version - In this free modal verbs of obligation and prohibition interactive worksheet, students do an exercise to help them practice the modals 'must' for obligation and 'mustn't' for prohibition.

 

Running Rules

ESL Obligation Modals Running Dictation - Reading, Listening and Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

In this fun modals of obligation running dictation activity, students practice completing and writing rules for various places. One student is the reader and the other is the writer. The reader runs to Text A, reads the first sentence, remembers it, runs back and dictates it to the writer who writes the sentence on the back of their worksheet. This continues until all the sentences in Text A have been dictated. The students then swap roles for Text B and the process is repeated. Next, students refer to the sentences they just wrote down and complete rules on the worksheet with the modals of obligation: must, mustn't, have to, don't have to, should or shouldn't. The students then read the sentences and decide which rules are for a museum and which are rules for a swimming pool, writing the sentence numbers accordingly. The first pair to do this correctly wins. Afterwards, the pairs think of a place and write five rules for that place using modals of obligation. Students must not say what the place is in their sentences. The students then go around the class reading their sentences to other pairs who try to guess the place being described.
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Ten Rules for English Class

ESL Modals of Obligation and Prohibition Activity - Reading and Writing - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 35 minutes

In this modals of obligation and prohibition activity, students write ten rules for studying in English class. In pairs, students write ten rules for studying in English class using modal verbs of obligation and prohibition. Students also explain the reason for each rule. The pairs then take it in turns to read out their rules to the class and feedback is given. Afterwards, the students work together as a class to come up with a list of ten rules that they all agree on.
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Interactive Version - In this modals of obligation and prohibition interactive PDF, students create ten rules for learning English online.

 

The Modal Hotel

ESL Modals of Obligation and Prohibition Activity - Writing and Speaking - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 35 minutes

In this obligation and prohibition activity, students use modal verbs to make rules for guests and staff in a hotel. Tell the students that they have taken over the management of a hotel and that they are going to decide what rules to have in the hotel for guests and staff. In groups, students use the prompts in the first column of the table on the worksheet to create a set of rules. Students write the rules in the second column using modal verbs of obligation and prohibition. Groups also think of extra rules for guests and staff and write them in the 'Other rules' box. Each group then joins with another group and compares rules, taking note of rules which are the same and different. If one group doesn’t agree with another group's rule, they try to persuade the other group to change it. Finally, the groups explain their rules to the class and the class tries to agree on one set of rules for the hotel.
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Interactive Version - In this modals of obligation and prohibition interactive worksheet, students do an exercise where they use modal verbs of obligation and prohibition to write rules for staff and guests in a hotel.

 

Where is it?

ESL Modals of Obligation and Prohibition Game - Listening and Speaking Activity - Pre-intermediate (A2) - 30 minutes

In this modal of obligation and prohibition speaking activity, students play a guessing game where they describe places and situations using modal verbs and expressions of obligation and prohibition. In pairs, students describe the place or situation on their card by writing five sentences with modal verbs and expressions of obligation and prohibition, e.g. must, should, have to, etc. Next, pairs take it in turns to read their sentences to the class who tries to guess the place or situation described by each pair.
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Job Descriptions

ESL Modals of Obligation and Prohibition Game - Listening and Speaking Activity - Intermediate (B1) - 30 minutes

In this free have to and must game, students guess jobs from clues that contain expressions of obligation and prohibition with must, mustn't, have to, and don't have to. There are six clues for each job. The first clue is quite difficult and the last clue is very easy. In pairs, one student goes first and picks up a card. The student then reads out the first clue on the card to their partner. Their partner listens to the clue and guesses what the job could be. If the guess is incorrect, the student reads the next clue and so on. If their partner correctly guesses the job, they get the number of points indicated next to the clue. The two students then swap roles. This continues until all the cards have been used. The student with the most points at the end of the game wins. Afterwards, each pair thinks of a job and creates their own clues using expressions of obligation and prohibition. The pairs then read their clues for the class to guess.
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School Rules

ESL Modals of Obligation and Prohibition Worksheet - Matching and Writing Exercises - Intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In this modals of obligation and prohibition worksheet, students practice expressing obligation and prohibition with 'can't', 'have to' and 'don't have to' by joining sentence parts together to make a set of school rules. Each sentence on the worksheet is split into three parts. Students join the three parts of each sentence together to make a school rule and write the sentence down on the worksheet. The first student to complete all the sentences correctly is the winner.
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Interactive Version - In this modals of obligation and prohibition interactive worksheet, students join sentence parts together to create a set of school rules in order to practice modal verbs of obligation and prohibition.

 

Should Survey

ESL Should Activity - Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking - Intermediate (B1) - 30 minutes

In this should and shouldn't activity, students practice asking and answering yes/no questions with 'should'. This activity can be used to practice the modal verbs 'should' and 'shouldn't' for mild obligation and giving opinions. Students go through the items on the worksheet and form the yes/no questions they need to ask in order to do the activity, e.g. 'Should people eat meat?' The students then move around the classroom asking yes/no questions and completing their worksheets with yes or no answers, depending on whether the item on the worksheet is affirmative or negative. When a classmate responds appropriately, the student writes their name in the 'Name' column on the worksheet and asks a follow-up question to gain more information, e.g. 'Why do you think people shouldn't eat meat?' When everyone has finished, the students give feedback to the class on what they found out.
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Three Things

ESL Obligation and Prohibition Board Game - Reading, Listening and Speaking Activity - Intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In this modals of obligation and prohibition board game, students review how to express past and present obligation, lack of obligation, and prohibition. Students take it in turns to roll the dice and move their counter along the board. When a student lands on a square, they make a sentence with the underlined language from the prompt, expressing past or present obligation, lack of obligation or prohibition. For example, if the square read 'Three things you mustn't do in class', the student might say 'You mustn't eat snacks, talk loudly or use your mobile phone in class'. The other group members listen to the student's sentence and judge whether it's correct or not. If the sentence is correct, the student stays on the square. If the sentence is grammatically incorrect or doesn't make sense, the student must go back to their previous square. If students land on the same square, they are not allowed to repeat a previous sentence made by another student. Instead, they should use different answers or reform the sentence. The first student to reach the finish wins the game.
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What do you think?

ESL Have to and Should Activity - Reading, Listening and Speaking - Intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In this have to and should activity, students decide and discuss how strongly they agree or disagree with statements containing modal verbs and expressions of obligation. Students begin by deciding how strongly they agree or disagree with ten statements on the worksheet. Working alone, the students read each statement and circle a number in the column marked 'You' to show how strongly they agree or disagree. Students then write their partner's name in the last column and guess their opinions about each statement. Students then compare and justify their answers with their partner and see how many guesses they got right. When everyone has finished, the students tell the class how many guesses were correct and discuss any differences of opinion.
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Interactive Version - In this modal verbs of obligation breakout room activity, pairs of students use modal verbs and expressions of obligation to show and discuss how strongly they agree or disagree with certain statements.

 

When you were a child

ESL Had To Activity - Listening and Speaking - Intermediate (B1) - 25 minutes

In this free past modals of obligation and prohibition activity, students ask and answer questions about what they were and weren’t allowed to do and had to do when they were a child. This activity can be used to practice permission, obligation and prohibition in the past. The students' task is to find out the answer to the question on their card by speaking to everybody in the group. Each student then prepares the question they need to ask, e.g. 'Were you allowed to watch TV at night when you were a child?' The students then go around their group finding out about what their classmates were and weren’t allowed to do and had to do when they were a child by asking questions with 'Were you allowed to...?' and 'Did you have to...?' Students put a tick or cross on the back of the card each time a classmate answers yes or no. When everyone has finished, the students sit down in their groups and take it in turns to talk about the information they found out. Each student writes about the group's findings. When everyone has finished, the groups take it in turns to report back to the class on what they found out during the activity.
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When you were young...

ESL Had To and Didn't Have To Activity - Writing, Listening and Speaking - Intermediate (B1) - 30 minutes

This past obligation activity helps to teach students how to express obligation in the past with 'had to' and 'didn't have to'. In the activity, students ask and answer questions about what they were obligated to do when they were children. Students start by turning each statement on the worksheet into a question, e.g. 'When you were young, did you have to go to school by bus?' Students also create two more questions of their own at the bottom of the worksheet. When the students have finished, they go around the class asking one another their questions. When a student finds someone who answers 'Yes, I did' to a question made from a positive statement, they write that person’s name in the second column. If the question is about a negative statement, the student needs to find someone who answers 'No, I didn't'. When a student writes down someone's name, they ask a follow-up question to gain more information and write the answer in the last column of the worksheet. Afterwards, the students give feedback to the class on what they found out using 'had to' and 'didn't have to'.
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