Identifying and using modality

Verbs create the relationship between the subject and the object of the verb.

Modal verbs give the reader information about the degree of obligation or certainty involved in the action. Modality can be demonstrated through careful word choice and may include selective use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives (especially with 'existing verbs' such as is vital, 'is' being the existing verb) or nouns to heighten/ strengthen or weaken/ lessen potency.

Low modality shows less certainty; obligation; probability; importance; frequency; extent; intensity; confidence or emphasis. High modality shows a high degree of these. For example must, should, shall and has to are examples of high modality auxiliary verbs, while low modality auxiliary verbs are may, might, could and would.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: verb clines

Look at the words used that demonstrate opinion and rank the modal verbs from least powerful to the most powerful.

Verb clines (PDF 161.12KB)

Representing verb clines

Students place cards onto a cline by making decisions for each word. The answers will be quite individual.

Representing verb clines (PDF 108.72KB)

Activity 2: verb clines - thermometer

Using cards or interactive whiteboard and the cline from the previous activity, students place cards higher or lower on the thermometer to create a visual to identify greater or lesser obligation or certainty. The intention is to create conversation as there is no absolutely correct answer. The aim is for students to justify their selection and placement.

Activity 3: partner share

Students are paired. One student from each pair starts a sentence using a noun (with an article, determiner etc.) or with a pronoun subject then one of the modal verbs.

For example I must ... or a car needs to ...

The second of the pair then concludes the sentence creating an interesting or funny sentence, for example ... travel faster than the speed of sound to escape the wicked sorcerer.

Students keep tally marks of each sentence and note their favourite one which is shared with the class after five minutes of the activity. The pair with the most tally marks wins.

Variation: Using the resource with modal verbs – have students tick off words from a list as they are used in a sentence.

Activity 4: those are the rules

Students are divided into two teams. Each team has a different area that has rules. For example: The first team has class and the second school. Students have ten minutes to write as many rules for their area as they can. For each rule students must use a modal descriptor e.g. Children should walk to lines. Children must listen to the teachers. The team with the biggest variety of modals wins.


Australian curriculum reference

ACELA1484: Learn extended and technical vocabulary and ways of expressing opinion including modal verbs and adverbs.

NSW syllabus reference

EN2-9B: Uses effective and accurate sentence structure, grammatical features, punctuation conventions and vocabulary relevant to the type of text when responding to and composing texts.

NSW literacy continuum reference

WRIC9M7: Aspects of writing, Cluster 9, Marker 7: Chooses verbs, adverbials, nouns and adjectivals to express specific ideas and details.

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