He couldn’t have seen a ghost!

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Grammar - past modals

past modals


In this grammar lesson, students learn a few idioms for expressing emotions, discover how to use past modals as well as practise them in speaking activities.

B2 / Upper Intermediate
C1 / Advanced
45 minStandard LessonPremium Plan


The worksheet starts with a short exercise in which students learn six idioms related to different emotions. First, they have to complete a few dialogues with some words given. The task include idioms such as look like thunder, walk on air, shake like a leaf, etc. Next, students read the dialogues again and try to guess what emotions the idioms refer to. To practise them in speaking, they have to discuss questions which all include the idioms they’ve just learnt.


The second part of the worksheet focuses on grammar. All the dialogues from ex. 1 include different past modals, so students read the dialogues again and discover the rules when we use specific past modals. Then, they get a few sentences and have to react to them using verbs in brackets. After that, students move to the speaking part which consists of two activities. In the first one, they look at some pictures and say how the people there feel. Then, they should make deductions about the past using different past modals: must, can’t, couldn’t, might (not), could, may. Encourage students to use also some emotion idioms to describe how the people in the pictures feel. Finally, we prepared six situations for students to discuss. They have to read each situation and result, think about what might have happened and speculate about each point. The activity is best done in pairs where students can discuss together each situation, but it also works fine when done individually.


After doing this worksheet, you might want to practise past modals with our ‘detective stories’ lesson plan:



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Leave a Reply

  1. Valentina Cerda

    It was a nice lesson, however I felt like a clear explanation of the idioms was missing.

    1. Morad Banks

      I think it’s clear enough from the context and also a point of discussion where the teacher can guide the students and elicit and help them establish the meaning.

  2. Bell


    Looking forward to using this lesson. I would say “have/has a face like thunder” or “with a face like thunder”, however, rather than “looks like thunder”.

    Use your lessons regularly – life savers!

    1. Justa

      Hi! Awesome, I hope you have a good class 🙂 When it comes to the idiom, actually both forms are in use.

  3. CantonesePete

    Great lesson! Highly recommend!

    1. Justa

      Happy to hear that! Thanks!

  4. Sarah Dunn

    The expression is ‘to have a face like thunder’, rather than to ‘look like thunder’ which doesn’t make sense. Would be nice if this could be corrected !

    1. Justa

      Hi Sarah! Actually, both expressions are correct. See the dictionary entries here and here.

  5. marta rocamora

    if you want to charge for the lesson I think you ought to have absolutely everything the students might ask for and definitions for each new idiom would be a must, I’d want to give that out even if they didn’t ask!!

    1. Stan

      As Morad (in the comment above) said, we didn’t want to add definitions here as the goal of the task is to come up with one and the teacher should faciliate this rather than give a ready solution. Nevertheless, we understand that it might be helpful for the teacher to have a defintion in front of their eyes. You will see that in newer lessons, we always give such kind of definitions to make it easier for the teacher, as it’s something we added following feedback from the ESL Brains community. For the sake of sanity, we usually don’t backtrack and implement such minor improvements to older lessons – it’d be overwhelming to browse through 500 lessons each time we improve something.


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