ESL CSI: A Modal Drawing Activity

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This is a great class that I like to use to teach modals.
First I tell the class that they are going to be Korean CSI. I tried to
make it dramatic and sound exciting, maybe even play some police drama music
at the beginning of class. That’s always fun. Here’s some old 70’s police music to make the mood.

You can conduct this class in many ways. You can divide
the students into pairs or small groups or keep them together as one
whole class. It really depends on how you much control you want over this exercise.

Usually, before I begin this class, I at least make sure they know
what modals are and how they can be used. For example, expressing
possibility or impossibility or sometimes making guesses or deductions as a police detective might do.

The First Modal Picture or Handout
ESL Modal Activity Handout

The first thing I do, especially if I’m breaking them up into smaller groups, is I want to do at least a small short exercise together. So I will draw this first picture on the board, or you can always copy this and hand this out to them so that they have something to look at and refer to while doing the class. Even though this is mainly me writing on the board and them talking, I have found that some students are never happy unless they get a handout of some kind. I even overheard one student remarking about why they liked my clas over someone else’s. Besides my awesome teaching skills (joke), they liked the fact that I always gave them something to take home with them.

Give them this situation. Ask them what would you think if you chanced upon a guy lying on the ground like this. Then you can give them some examples like: He might be sleeping. He must have been hit by the rock. He could have fallen. Someone might have thrown a rock at him. I normally use this picture to warm up the class, and then we get to the real exercise.

Modal Drawing – The First Scene

TOFEL Modal activity


And now to the real class. You should draw this first picture on the board. You might have to practice a few times before you do it. As you can tell from my awesome drawing, it isn’t easy to do this if you haven’t practiced. Actually, I can do this pretty easily on a board, but I found that on an iPad, it was much harder to do.

Draw the first picture. Now either have students talk about what is happening in their small groups or go over this first picture as a whole class.

Depending on how well you draw, students might come up with some humorous ideas about the picture. I had students sometimes saying that he looked happy because I drew him with a smile and that maybe he got a good grade on a test. They also said that he might be having a nice dream. After that, I tried to draw the mouth as neutral as possible. Have students guess what is happening. With this first picture, they should guess something like:

  • He might be sleeping.
  • He could be sick.
  • He might be dead.

Modal Drawing – The Plot Thickens

ESL Modal Activity

Now move on to picture 2. You might have to teach students new vocabulary such as a potted plant or flower pot for this picture. Some students will immediately guess she must have been hit with the potted plant. Other students me guess things like:

  • The plant blew in from the window.
  • He kicked it over.
  • He might have gotten it from his girlfriend, and they had a fight, so he kicked it over.

After they’ve guessed some answers for that, then move to picture 3.


Modal Drawing – An Open Window

Modal Drawing ESL Activity

That is supposed to be a window. You might be able to draw something better than I did. If you can, then I’m happy for you! Some of my students thought that it was like a bank of TVs or something similar. Most of them will guess that it’s an open window, and they might guess for example:

  • The wind could have blown the window open.
  • The plant must have fallen from the window.
  • Someone might have thrown the plant at him.

There are all kinds of different ideas they might come up with.

Modal Drawing – What’s That on the Floor?

TESL Modal Activity

Now move on to picture 4. When I draw this liquid, I try to make it look like it can be anything. Students asked me, “Is that blood?” My answer is always, “I don’t know! You tell me.” So they’ll guess things like:

  • It must be blood.
  • It might be a hot night, and he’s sweating, so he opened the window.
  • He might have been shot, or maybe the pot cut his head, and he’s bleeding.

Modal Drawing – The Finale

Modal ESL Activity

Finally, picture number 5 when they see this they will think the man must have shot him, I will then try to ask them what they think the motive might have been. For example:

  • He might have stolen the other guy’s girlfriend.
  • One clever student thought, “Oh, it’s water on the floor, and that is a squirt gun.”


And that is pretty much the whole lesson. Another follow-on activity you can do is to have students produce their own picture sequences. I’ve never done this, so I’m not sure how that will work out. I think it really depends on your students.

One of the main things that I do at the end of a class is to go over any new vocabulary or idioms or expressions that they might have learned during the class. And once again, repeating the modals used and the rules that apply to the different verb tenses is useful.

I hope that this class helps you teach modals and can bring a little feeling of the excitement of a police drama. And always remember crime fighters, Teaching English is Fun and crime never pays.

– Jim

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4 thoughts on “ESL CSI: A Modal Drawing Activity

    1. Hey Seanan,

      I hope I can provide something that eases the burden of finding fun and educational activities for ESL classes. Thanks for visiting and let me know if there is anything you might be looking for. Unfortunately, I gave all of my resources away when I left Korea, but I’ve still got some ideas kicking around the cobwebs of my head. I am coming up with new things and ways to do classes now that I am going back and examining what I did in the past.

      See you and the family on Facebook! ~ Jim

  1. Thanks Jim
    I liked that
    It was so useful
    I would like to get the latest ideas from the creative people like you,thank you
    God bless you

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