Grammar Lesson Plan


Background Information:

This grammar lesson is intended for a high-intermediate or advanced level class in an intensive English program such as the ELC. The target class size would ideally be no more than 15 students.


This lesson is intended cover three 50 minute class periods. It is not exhaustive in its coverage of the functions of modals in the English language. The assumption is that the high intermediate learners will already understand many common functions of modals, such as asking permission, making requests, and being polite. The focus of this lesson, then, is to broaden the students understanding of other appropriate and useful situations where modals are used. Finally, the order of the days is intended to move the students from more simple examples to more complex. If the students prior knowledge lends itself to changing the order of days, the lesson plan should still be effective.

Unit Goal:

Students will build on basic knowledge of English modals to understand more complex usages.


  1. Students will give and receive instructions using modals.
  2. Students will differentiate between the modals used for possibility, obligation, and necessity by identifying theses types of modals in the language around them.
  3. Students will demonstrate an ability to reason deductively using modal forms.

Materials Needed:

Day One

Topic: Giving and Receiving Instructions or Advice
Objective: See objective 1 above

Warm Up Activity

(5 min)
Use the information in the TOEFL preparation booklet to ask students if they can answer some of the commonly asked questions about the TOEFL exam. Focus on the questions which use the words “can” and “may” so the students responses come in the form of “can/can’t” and “may/may not.”

**Reference: TOEFL 1998-99 information bulletin for computer-based testing. Educational Testing Service.

Deductive Instruction

(10 min) Ask students to list the modals in English. Then remind them of the basic structural principles, such as modals only have one form and do not change in the third person singular or in the plural form. Then have students discuss the different functions of modals they have studied previously. The teacher may want to make a list of these functions on the board. This will also give the teacher an opportunity to assess whether this lesson’s information is too hard or too easy for the students.

Listening/Speaking activity

(10 min):
Explain to the students, if it didn’t already come up in the above discussion, that giving instructions and advice is one use for modals. Then have the students get into pairs and blindfold one of the students in each pair. Give the blindfolded students a task to complete. There are many possible kinds of tasks, such as drawing a picture, building a house or other structure with legos, maneuvering through a maze of chairs, etc. Any activity will work as long as the blindfolded student has to ask questions about what to do next and the seeing student has to help them get the task completed.

Listening/Speaking/Writing activity

(15 min):
Put the students into groups and allow them to play a common board or card game. After they have played, have them silently write all of the instructions and rules from the game they can remember. Stress that they should use the modals in their instructions as they write. Then have the students volunteer their answers and compile a complete list of the rules and instructions for the game as a class. The teacher could then compare the students’ list of rules with the real game instructions, or use the instructions to clarify any differences of opinion which arise among the students.

Reading/Writing activity

(10 min):
Clip a Dear Abby letter from the newspaper and give a copy to each student. Explain what a Dear Abby letter is so the students understand what they are reading. Ask the students to read the letter silently and then talk with a partner about the problem the person is having. After reading the letter, ask the students to pretend that they are Abby and write a response to the person about what s/he should do.


Tell the students that they need to find one more example of how modals are used for giving or receiving instructions and advice at home that night. Then they should write a paragraph describing the circumstance which requires modals.

Day Two

Topic: Possibility, Obligation, or Necessity
Objective – see objective 2 above

Warm up activity

(5 Min)
Show students pictures of signs which represent specific information. Ask students to tell you with each sign what obligation the person is under. There is a sheet included of possible signs to use. Could ask students to list other common signs. May also ask if they can think of any signs which offer a possibility rather than an obligation.

**Reference: Fuchs, M. & Westheimer M. (1994). Focus on Grammar: An Intermediate Course for Reference and Practice. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Listening/Speaking activity

(10 min or longer if groups discuss more than one situation):
Give the students a list of dilemmas which involve serious circumstances. You can use situations like the ones on the list provided or come up with your own. Put students into groups of three or four and have them discuss the possible solutions. They should decide what all of their possibilities are as well as what they are obligated to do. You may also want to push them to come to a consensus as a group as to which is the best solution.

**Reference: Ur, P. (1988) Grammar Practice Activities: a practical guide for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (p. 176-177)

Reading/Writing activity

(20 min)
Have students imagine that they are in charge of finding someone to fill a job they know something about. Ask the students to write a paragraph about the qualifications that this person who gets the job must have as well as the qualifications s/he should have. (This may be a good time to review which modals allow for possibility and which only allow for obligation or necessity.) Students could then read each other’s paragraphs and put an * by obligatory requirements and a # by possible requirements.

Reference: Ur, P. (1988) Grammar Practice Activities: a practical guide for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (p. 175-176)

Reading/Writing activity

(15 min)
Give students a syllabus for a content course. Allow them to read the syllabus completely. Then have them get with a partner and go through the syllabus underlining the parts of the syllabus that are necessary as opposed to those that are optional. May discuss afterwards which type of instructions are most common on a syllabus and why.


Ask students to listen for modals in the conversations around them. Have them record at least three examples of each type of modals -- possibility, obligation, and necessity. The teacher should then assess the students’ understanding based upon what is turned in.

Day Three

Topic: Deductions
Objective: See objective 3 above

Warm Up Activity

(5 min):
Play a game of 20 questions with the students. Choose a person, animal, or object instruct the students to ask you questions about the kinds of functions this person, animal, or object can do. For example, you may choose a horse and tell the students that the category is an animal. Then they would ask questions such as, “Can this animal run fast?” or “Can this animal carry humans?” You are really eliciting can/can’t questions from the students. From asking these questions, they should be able to eventually deduce the person, animal, or object you are thinking of.

Deductive Explanation

(5 min):
Briefly explain how the modals are used in deductive reasoning. Give examples of the modals which lend themselves to deductions. These would include modals and phrasal modals such as must, could have, might be, can’t be true, etc.

Listening/Speaking activity

(10 min):
Bring a picture of one of your family members or friends. Make sure the picture is an action shot and not a static pose. Then show the picture to the class and ask them to make deductions about who this person is, how you know them, and what happened before and after the picture was taken. You may also ask the students the day before to bring pictures as well. Then the activity could be expanded to discuss their photos too.

**Reference: Ur, P. (1988) Grammar Practice Activities: a practical guide for teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (p. 180)


(15 min):
Give the students an excerpt from a novel, preferably a mystery or otherwise suspenseful story. Ask the students to read the passage and then write their ideas about what will happen next. The class could then compare and contrast their opinions about what they deduced.


(15 min):
Show a video clip of a movie. Be sure to turn off the movie just as the scene is reaching a climax. Again, have the students predict what the outcome will be. The teacher may take this opportunity to discuss how we make deductions. For instance, have the students list the information they know as fact and then they can talk about what usually happens in that kind of situation, or how movies usually have a certain outcome, etc.


Have the students write a one page story in which they present a situation – either real or imagined – which requires the use of all of the different usages of modals discussed throughout the week. You may suggest that they come up with a dilemma like the ones you did in class since that would provide the opportunity for making deductions, stating possibilities and obligations, and giving instructions.