Turn Left at the Modal Verb

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I have found an interesting, effective method for teaching modal verbs covertly.

I introduce modals in a discussion of traffic signs. I hand out driver's manuals to the students (they're free at the DMV, and anyway, some students from countries with differenct driving laws appreciate them!). Then, I ask some simple questions to prep the topic -- what kind of car do you drive, what color is it, etc. Whatever. The idea is just to get the students thinking about the topic.

Then, I point out certain pages in the manuals with traffic signs, and I ask questions like "Can you turn left at this sign?", showing a one-way traffic sign.
It's surprising how students can infer the meanings of modals just by hearing questions. And the possibilities are varied:

--Stop sign... You _have to_ stop.

--One of these thingies (whaddya callems!)
| ->

You _can_ turn right, but you don't _have to_.

-- The yellow, diamond shaped warning signs (deer, pedestrians, etc.): You _should_ slow down, because you _might_ see deer.

--Fine signs (for speeding) You _had better_ slow down.

I find using these signs useful for another reason: they are memorable as a group. Although I do eventually use the term "modal verbs," just calling them "traffic sign verbs" seems to be rememebered more easily than "modal verbs." I guess people are into the concrete.

Thanks, and email me if you try it!
Patrick Hall
Arlington, VA

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