Teaching modal verbs of obligation

mum ordering a child to do something

When teaching modal verbs of obligation, it can be helpful to compare must and have to. But, personally, I’d teach them one at a time. I prefer to drill something thoroughly (using games for all ages to make it enjoyable) and avoid confusion for life! Then do a lesson comparing them. If you teach too much new grammar in one go, students get confused and don’t remember any of it!

Make modals relevant

To make the modal verbs of obligation relevant to your primary school pupils or your teens, how about asking students to write a list of things they consider to be non-negotiable imperatives. However, don’t interfere with the content. Students may need some examples to focus on, but it should be their list, not yours. These could be:

– Four essentials for a good party. For example, the music must be good, and my friends must be there. Have students discuss their top four in pairs. Then vote as a class on the short-list and come up with the four top essentials in order of importance. Use positive obligation for this.

– Students imagine they have two kids of their own. Vote on six cast-iron rules for these kids at home. If some children say they will never have kids, they can come up with a list of rules for children in general. Use negative obligation for this. For example, my children must not smoke in the house.

– The one non-negotiable obligation of a friend. To be my true friend, you must never lie to me. The class votes the top three after discussion in pairs.

Let students lead

As mentioned above, to make teaching modal verbs satisfying for students, please be sure not to interfere with the content. It’s the students’ list of rules, not yours. If it’s their list and priorities, they will be more interested in it than a list of obligations resembling parental nagging. Having students develop their topics, whether at primary school or as teenagers, is an excellent way to keep your lessons relevant to your students. Let me know how it goes in the comments below, and feel free to ask me any questions!

Skit for modals verbs of obligation

See my speaking fluency role-plays and skits for teens, coming soon, suitable for A2-B1 CERFA and High Novice-Low Intermediate ACTFL levels. In addition, there’s a skit dedicated to modals of obligation. Finally, the following link has a free role-play for the first and second conditionals.


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