You don’t have to worry about me telling you what you should do or how you could/may/might deal with modals. This activity is one of my favorites for teaching or revising modal verbs of deduction in the present or past and you simply must try it.
Choose ten small objects at home and put each one in a paper bag with a number. Students will have to guess what the objects are by only reaching in and touching them. Some of these objects should be easily identifiable – a pencil or a paperclip – but others should be harder or even misleading – a box of Rice-a-Roni, a library card (could be a credit card), a CD (could be a dvd), etc.
Students reach in the bags one by one, and in pairs write down what they think the object is. They pass the bags around for about five minutes. Don’t give them too long and don’t let them cheat by looking! When they finish, write their possible answers on the board, allowing for some natural discussion. Still without revealing what each object is (because this is to practice modals in the present), you can discuss this: the CD – it could/may/might be a CD, or it could/may/might be a DVD: it’s hard to tell just by touching it.
But for the library card…it could/may/might be a library card, a video rental card, or an ID card…do they think it is a credit card? No, the students should say, that’s impossible, they can’t feel the bumps that would be the numbers or name which are usually indented. Aha, you say, so it can’t be a credit card. A CTA card from Chicago works nicely for this because of the shape – one corner is cut off. So it “can’t be” a credit card and it “must be” a CTA card.
If the language is new, this is a good context so students can start with the meaning (I’m not sure what this is, or I feel certain about this even though I can’t see it to verify it) and then go the form (It may/might/could be a … or It must be a…).
Obviously you have to choose the right objects for this to be challenging and interesting, so plan in advance. You can adapt it to higher levels by making them draw conclusions about the past (Number 7 could have been a comb…), or you can use it as revision for either past or present by asking students to discuss in pairs what the objects are using modal verbs. Also obviously, there are ways to do this activity without using modal verbs at all, so you do have to point out to your students that this is one of the goals and they should use them.
For other cool classroom activities, take your pick from the In The Classroom Table of Contents.