This is a game that helps students practice and produce past modals in a fun context and encourages them to be creative. The plan below includes detailed instructions and the game cards. It was made for a group of B1+ students who were familiar with modals from previous lessons.

The ‘mystery’ cards can be downloaded by clicking here. Cut up enough cards for one for every student.


I write the following on the board: ‘A man arrives at work an hour late.’

I ask the class why he might be late and we discuss it for a minute coming up with various suggestions, while I keep a mental note of some of the suggestions. One of the students said ‘woke up late?’ So I ask her again while writing the following on the board:
He might ____ ____ up late.

I elicit the correct sentence, with a little support if necessary, so that we have:
He might have woken up late.
I then write a short guide in the top right of the board (see below) and go back to other students who made suggestions and write additional sentences on the board. I also include any examples that students call out that are in the present tense, but write them to the side and ask them to explain the difference (it’s easier for students to see the difference between the past and present modals side by side).

After a short feedback, with help where required for vocabulary and to correct sentences, the board should look like this:
board 01.png
Next we remove the sentences in the present tense, explaining that we want to know what event happened before he arrived. We also take this opportunity to clarify the difference between might and must, since it’s too soon to make any conclusions about what ‘must’ have happened.

Part one: with the whole class

I write the next clue on the board: ‘His clothes are damaged and he looks hurt.’
Students discuss possible reasons in pairs and write a sentence using the form on the board. I monitor and early finishers are asked to think of some more ideas. When every pair has written at least one sentence we have feedback as a class, only writing sentences on the board if students need help.

Then students are given the last clue: ‘He doesn’t have his wallet or phone.’
We repeat the last exercise but this time students are encouraged to reach a conclusion and use ‘must’. Most students produce ‘He must have been robbed/mugged’ or another variation, but any logical answer is accepted.

Part two: mingle

Students are each given a card from the game and asked to read their own clues. Students mingle, taking turns in reading their clues to a partner. After each clue they should give their partner time to think of a suitable sentence. A typical exchange should be as follows:

A: “A man is uncomfortable and walking slowly.”
B: “He might have hurt his leg.”
A: “He is holding his stomach.”
B: “He might have been punched.”
A: “He spent a lot of money at a restaurant.”
B: “He must have eaten a lot.”
A: “Yes, he must have had a very big lunch.”

The cards are numbered and students should try to talk to as many people as possible with different cards. Once everyone has spoken to at least five people you can end the task.

Rather than a mingle you could also use these cards in small groups, where one player takes a card, reads out the clues, and the group work together to think of possible sentences. This is less demanding on individuals but allows some students to let others take the lead instead of thinking of answers for themselves.

After either task students are asked to remember sentences which people said when they were guessing what was on their card and write them down. Feedback in pairs and then as a class, asking students to say which sentences they think were the best.

Part three: the students’ turn

In pairs students make their own ‘mystery’ cards. They can write two or three clues for each one. Monitor to ensure students understand the task and are writing logical clues. Students then mingle with their own cards.

The sentences that students were able to produce showed a lot of creativity and the class produced a lot of memorable, and often quite funny, sentences that used the structure. For follow up you could ask students to illustrate their clues and the sentences in a comic.

Additional options

A quick activity is to get one student to leave the class for a minute while another student changes something in the room. When the student gets back they have to guess what happened using the target language:
“Mark must have moved my bag.” “Sarah might have taken my pencil.”

You can find more resources on this grammar point here: EFL Magazine – Modals of deduction.

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