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9 Fun Activities for Can/Can’t for Ability

Ways of adding fun and loads of other useful language to what is usually your students’ introduction to modal verbs.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub

1. Can/can’t board game
Students are given characters and choose between six and ten abilities for them. Those characters compete to work their way around a board game with squares like “There is a wall of fire in front of you” and “There is a huge magnet under the floor”. Students explain how they can use one of their abilities to get past that thing, or they have to stay on their previous square. You can also play the same game with students choosing which objects to take at the beginning of the game, making sentences like “We can use the rope and hula hoop to swing across from a tall tree”.

2. Make me say “Yes, I can”/Make me say “No, I can’t”
Students must ask the teacher questions to which his or her real answer is “Yes, I can”, e.g. “Can you speak Spanish?” and “Can you cook English food?” They can then move onto the more amusing variation where they should try to get “No, I can’t” answers with questions like “Can you fly?” and “Can you lift all of us?” The same games can easily be played in pairs and small groups.

3. Must say “Yes, I can”/Must say “No, I can’t”
Students must answer “Yes, I can” to all “Can you…?” questions, even if it is plainly untrue when asked things like “Can you say the alphabet in one second?” and “Can you speak 20 languages?” They then answer three extra questions like “How long does it take you to say the alphabet backwards?” and “Which ones?”, then their partners guess if the original “Yes, I can” answer was true or false. It can be quite fun for them to have to continue answering seriously when asked questions like “Can you breathe underwater?” but if you want to make the guessing more competitive you can also give them verbs or whole questions they must use.

4. Can/can’t definitions game
One student makes can/ can’t statements about an object, animal, real person, etc like “I can break it with my hands” and “It can float” until someone works out what they are talking about.

5. Can/can’t 20 questions
This is like the game above but asking questions like “Can I see one now?” and “Can you buy one in a supermarket?” and guessing the object from the answers.

6. My stickman can/can’t
This game is a little odd but has gone down really well with students with a slightly wicked sense of humour. Divide the class into two teams and get one representative of each team up to the board. They draw a stickman each, including as many body parts as they can (e.g. also eyebrows). One of the teams says something that the other team’s person can’t do, e.g. “Your man can’t play hopscotch”. That team should delete the minimum number of body parts that they can to match that description, e.g. just the hands so that they can throw. There might be some discussion about whether the person can still do that thing with the remaining body parts. When that is settled, the team that was deleting then says something similar for the other team’s man. This continues until one man has completely disappeared or the teacher stops the game. They then take turns trying to build up their own man from that point as quickly as possible, e.g. being able to put back the eyes, hands and fingers by saying “Our man can play PSP”.

7. Animal abilities bluff
This one takes some research by the teacher or the students. Students make a statement about the ability of an animal, e.g. “A cow can sleep standing up”, and the other students have to guess whether it is true or not, perhaps after asking for details.

8. Can brainstorming
You can get students brainstorming true sentences with a single subject, e.g. “A plane can turn” and “A plane can carry people”, or different sentences with one verb like “You can squeeze a lemon with two hands” and “You can squeeze a sandwich, but it isn’t a good idea”.

9. Can/can’t Top Trumps
Top Trumps is a card game that is somewhat like Pokemon, with cards “battling” each other and the winning person getting to take the other person’s card. Official packs are available for all kinds of subjects such as dinosaurs, skyscrapers and Lord of the Rings. Many of the things on the cards can be said with this language point, e.g. “It can run at 120 kph” and “It can shoot 200 rounds without reloading”. However, it is probably best to come up with your own cards that match your students’ interests, have more graded language and use the target language even more.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub | December 2012
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.

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