Magic, Mysteries, and Modals

Upon my return from my vacation, a YouTube viewer did me the favor of selecting my next video topic. The viewer did not merely request a language point, but also suggested a theme. Many have asked me to make videos on modal verbs, but this was the first request for the perfect aspect, namely must have + past participle. How wonderful, I thought, for someone to narrow down such a broad topic. And the theme that was suggested? My summer vacation. The wheels in my head immediately began turning, and today I posted English Grammar Lesson 26 on using modals to express past possibilities.

For those teachers who wish to get a little more mileage out of the lesson, here are a few suggestions.

  • Mystery Destination. Have each student think of their favorite vacation. They will write their name at the top of a sheet of paper followed by 3-4 clues about the destination of the chosen vacation. Post their papers along one wall and ask students to move from paper to paper, reading the clues and making their guesses. Encourage guesses to be written in full sentences using a modal verb: Bo must have gone to the mountains.  Give them approximately 10 minutes to do this. Have students take their seats and then ask the class to volunteer their guesses about their classmates. They should explain their logic:  Bo must have gone to the mountains because he said he did some hiking and fishing. Remind students that if anyone is certain of his or her guess, no modal verb should be used.
  • Detectives for a Day. There are a number of sites offering short mysteries online. Ones written for children might work better in terms of language level and length. For example, MysteryNet’s Kid Mysteries has a collection of “Quick Solve” stories. The one about a mysterious footprint in a freshly paved sidewalk (The Case of the Defaced Sidewalk) could generate sentences such as: It couldn’t have been Brittany because she sprained her ankle the day before.
  • Magic Tricks Revealed. If you can do your own tricks, start with an easy one. Have students guess how you did it. Chances are they will know, and you can emphasize the need for no modals when there is 100% certainty. If you’re unable to wow students with a more complex trick, let the professionals help you. Magicians and magic tricks appear in abundance on YouTube. Let them watch one and write down possible explanations. This can be done in pairs before guesses are shared with you. Here’s one clip from America’s Got Talent. (The magician saws a standing man in half and then pieces the body together. > He might have used a robot of some kind in the bottom half of the body.)

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