Published 21st November 2017

Modal verbs are verbs which help verbs convey meaning. There are a range of uses of modal verbs, such as to convey possibility, probability and speculation. Here is a fun activity to practise modal verbs of deduction in the classroom. It requires some preparation by the teacher but once you have done it once it will be easy to replicate for other classes.

First, ask the students to come up with the name of a person (real, celebrity or imaginary – Mickey Mouse, for example), a place (the library) and 10 random objects (toothbrush, pencil, cigarette, etc). This needs to be done before the actual lesson, in a previous lesson preferably; at this point do not tell them what the purpose of this exercise is. Once you have gathered this information, create or find props that relate to this particular crime scene and set up the crime scene in the classroom. This can include realia (for the objects), a photograph of the victim, crime scene tape, fake blood – anything that can help your classroom look like a crime scene. You can even dress up as a police detective!

When the learners arrive, inform them that Mickey Mouse was murdered in the library the day before – or whatever scenario they chose. Explain that all their random objects were found at the crime scene and it is up to them to figure out what happened.

Show them the language they can use to verbalise their ideas, ie past modals. Past modals are used to communicate speculation and deduction, which is exactly what the students will be doing with the evidence. Give the students the base structure and show them how it can be manipulated for their own purposes.

For example,

He could’ve been hit on the head with the toothbrush.

He might’ve been a smoker.

He can’t have been alone.

Though they may be a bit shy at first, you can provide them with a few ideas and soon they will be coming up with very interesting theories. It usually doesn’t take very long for the students to get thoroughly involved in the murder mystery! If you want to provide an extra aim, you can ultimately decide what happened and prepare a police report which confirm the details. At the end of the lesson, reveal the true crime investigation to the students and find out if anyone was correct.

Sometimes it pays to have a little fun in the classroom. If you have the time to put a little bit of effort into preparing this lesson you should find your students very responsive. It helps to shake up your lessons and students are always happy to put the coursebook away in favour of doing something different!