How strongly do I feel about this?

Modality is the selection of words used to express how definite we are about something. It can range from being uncertain (low modality) to very certain (high modality). It is used when discussing or writing about a point of view.

Modal auxiliaries
LowMediumHigh
May, might, could, would. Will, should, can, need to. Must, shall, ought to, has to.
Modal adjuncts
LowMediumHigh
Possibly, perhaps, maybe, arguably. Probably, presumably, in all probability. Definitely, absolutely, certainly, surely.

Strategy

While modelling or jointly constructing texts with students demonstrate ways to alter the modality of the text.

Compile a list of attitudinal phrases while reading or listening to texts with students and sort into high, medium and low modality.

Provide sample texts that contain examples of modality. Ask students to find the modal words and replace them with different words that change the modality. Discuss the effect of the change.

Alternatively make tables with modals missing for students to discuss which one would be appropriate in the context.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: colour coded words

Colour code flashcards of modal auxiliaries and adjuncts for students to recognise the degree – green for low, orange for medium and red for high. The cards can be used for students to make statements about a topic orally then in writing.

Modal auxiliaries
LowMediumHigh
may. will. must.
might. should. shall.
could. can. ought to.
would. need to. has to.
Modal adjuncts
LowMediumHigh
possibly. probably. definitely.
perhaps. presumably. absolutely.
maybe. in all probability. certainly.
arguably (blank). surely.

Other expressions could also be included, for example:

  • It is undeniable that…
  • There is no doubt that…
  • There is no denying that…
  • There is no doubt in my mind that…

Students could investigate which modal auxiliaries and adjuncts can go together, for example, could possibly, would certainly.

  • If hunting occurs in national parks visitors may be in danger.
  • Hunting in national parks will cause problems for visitors.
  • Hunting will definitely stop families from visiting national parks.

Students can then order the sentences from weak to high modality or pass their sentences to others to write alternative sentences, changing the modality.

Activity 2: how many ways

Students can be provided with a sentence about a classroom topic and asked to rewrite the sentence in as many ways as they can with different modality, perhaps within a time limit. They could be given a list of words to refer to.

  • We might be able to deal with the littering problem ourselves.
  • We can definitely solve this littering problem ourselves.
  • We could deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • We will be able to deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • We can probably deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • We must deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • We can deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • We can certainly deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • Perhaps we will be able to deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • We could possibly deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • We need to deal with this littering problem ourselves.
  • We should deal with this littering problem ourselves.

Students can then rank or group the sentences written on sentence strips and discuss which sentence they would include in their own writing and why.

References

Australian curriculum

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

NSW syllabus

EN3-6B:Outcome 6: uses knowledge of sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary to respond to and compose clear and cohesive texts in different media and technologies(EN3-6B) - Respond to and compose texts: select some more challenging language features, literary devices (such as irony, humour) and grammatical features (for example modality) to engage and influence an audience.

NSW literacy continuum

WRIC12M5: Aspects of writing, Cluster 12, Marker 5: Selects some sophisticated and subtle language features, literary devices (such as irony, humour) and grammatical features (for example modality) to engage and influence an audience.

Online resources

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