A Social Justice Tip for English Language Teachers
I speak often about incorporating social justice themes into language lessons. For example, recently I posted a list of Spanish social justice subjunctive sentences. This week, I will switch the focus to teaching English modal verbs.
What is a modal verb?
Wikipedia explains that a modal verb “is a type of auxiliary verb that is used to indicate modality – that is, likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation. Examples include the English verbs can/could, may/might, must, will/would, and shall/should”. The pattern for a modal verb sentence is:
Subject + Modal [not] + Base verb (the whole verb but without “to”)
Examples: We can do it! / You should not go out.
To make a question, simply switch the subject and the modal verb. Examples: He can swim — Can he swim? / We should go out — Should we go out?
Teaching modal verbs and critical thinking at the same time
It is easy to turn a lesson about modal verbs into a lesson about social justice that promotes critical thinking. What I mean by critical thinking is analyzing an issue from various perspectives and engaging in meaningful discussion that takes these perspectives into account. Of course it’s very important to know what your students’ interests and motivations are in order to provide them with discussion topics that will be engaging for them. Modal verbs lend themselves easily to many different discussion topics. This list of modal verb sentences is meant to facilitate discussion about social justice issues:
- War can be necessary in some situations.
- We could solve many of the world’s problems if we eliminated money.
- Citizens must always follow the laws of their country.
- Immigration should be strictly controlled.
- Racism, sexism, homophobia and other kinds of discrimination might be learned in school.
- People should not own guns.
- Climate change will destroy the planet.
- Women should have the same rights as men.
This list provides just a few examples of statements you could have students discuss. You might lead a large group discussion or have students break into smaller groups. You could organize a class debate, and/ or have your students create their own statements for discussion.
Another option to practice modal verbs is a problem-solving activity. Hand out cards with different scenarios on them and have students discuss what the options are to solve the problem presented, and what they think should be done. For example, one problem might be a case of sexual harassment at work – students discuss what the possibilities are (what the person can do) and what their suggestions are (what the person should do).
Whatever the activity, don’t forget to encourage your students to respond with full sentences (not just “I agree” but “I agree that women should have the same rights as men”) so that they practice using modal verbs!