How to teach Modal Verbs – free lesson content

Need lesson content to teach modal verbs to your ESL students? You’ve come to the right place! We have 21 lessons designed for teaching modal verbs to your ESL students. You can find them in our Verbs-Modals category. If you haven’t yet set up an account for Off2class, you can do so on our Home Page.

We developed our modal verbs category because we found it extremely difficult to locate a complete series of lesson content covering modal verbs, designed for private teachers/tutors, online. Teaching modal verbs is a critical concept to develop natural speech in your ESL students and we hope that our series will be of great help to private tutors and teachers. We have divided our 21 modal verbs lessons by use. We have 7 main uses for modal verbs:

Here’s what you can find in each of our use categories:
M1.1 – M1.3 – Modal-Verbs-Ability
We use can, could and be able to to express ability, possibility and permission. We also use can to express polite requests, and can/could to express general ability. Be able to is used to express specific ability:
modal-verbs modal-verbs
M2.1 – Modal-Verbs-Requests
We use may I, can I and could I for polite requests (e.g. may I borrow your phone?). We also use polite requests with you as the subject using the construction would you, will you, could you, can you (e.g. would you turn off the light?).
modal-verbs modal-verbs
M3.1 – M3.6 Modal-Verbs-Necessity 
We use must, have to and have got to to express necessity (e.g. you have got to finish the report tonight!). Had to is used to express necessity in the past. We also use necessity modals to express opinions, obligations and rules. Need to is used to express an urgent level of necessity. Must not is generally used for prohibition including rules and regulations (e.g. you must not run on the pool deck).
M4.1 – M4.3 Modal-Verbs-Advisability
Should and shouldn’t are used to express suggestions, duty, responsibility and expectations. I think ….. should is used to express suggestions while you had better is used for a much stronger suggestions. Ought to is an equivalent for should:
modal-verbs modal-verbs 
M5.1 Modal-Verbs-Expectations
We use be supposed to to express an expectation (e.g. It is supposed to rain today). This construction can be used in the present tense and the past tense, and for each subject in the positive and negative form (e.g. They weren’t supposed to be here yet).
M6.1 Modal-Verbs-Suggestions
The modal verbs of should and could can also be used to express suggestions. We also use let’s, why don’t and shall I for suggestions (e.g. Why don’t we go to the beach today?):
modal-verbs modal-verbs
M7.1-M7.6 Modal-Verbs-Probability
We have six lessons covering modal verbs to express probability. In order of probability (i.e. 0% to 100%) the following modal verbs are used to express probability: may, might, could, must, can’t/couldn’t. The verb to be is used to express 100% probability:
modal-verbs modal-verbs

As you can see, we have fairly exhaustive set of modal verbs lessons ready for you! As always, we would love hear your feedback if you’ve tried teaching these lessons with your students!


  • Rajdeep Sinha says:

    April 17, 2015 at 5:14 am

    Please help me remove the confusion regarding the use and usage of CAn and MAY,’MAY and MIGHT and CAN and COULD. The modals could and might are used in present tense to mean probability or possibility but sometimes the usage and is so very delicate and the degree of difference is so very thin that it cteates confusion. Are yhere no ways to judge and ascertain which modal to use in a given context.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      April 19, 2015 at 9:29 am

      Hi Rajdeep,
      Thanks for stopping by. Have you looked through our Can-Could lesson series? (M1.1 to M1.3). They focus on explaining the tricky concepts you’ve just highlighted!

  • mehmet says:

    October 21, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    these pictures are designed very well, ı downloaded them to use in my ELT clasroom thank you.

    • Chris says:

      October 25, 2019 at 10:07 am

      Glad you like them, they all come from the lessons at!

  • Mira says:

    April 17, 2020 at 1:28 am

    Hi do yo have any suggestions how to use models to teach problem solution text structure ?

    • Chris says:

      April 22, 2020 at 12:28 pm

      Hi Mira, can you give me an example of what you mean?

      • M. Dhanraj says:

        May 29, 2020 at 10:31 am

        I mean modals. I know signal words can be used to show a problem-solution text structure. But sometimes modals verbs indicate this as well. So how do explain modals verbs as a language cue to identify problem-solution?
        Thank you

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