The modal verb ‘might’ to mean 50/50 probability is one of the commonest words in English, but also one that learners often fail to use because they translate from L1 and say things like: ‘It is possible that I will’ or ‘Perhaps I will’. Now, the really fun thing about ‘might’ is that the % probability can change a lot depending on our intonation. The activity I describe below takes about 3 minutes of class time, and I do it on nearly every course I teach (as part of a review of modals – always welcomed by students).
1 Say aloud the number ‘one’, strongly and with one finger held up. Then look out of the window and say: ‘It might rain this afternoon’. Do this like you are making a passing matter-of-fact comment in a conversation.
2 Now say aloud the number ‘two’, strongly and with two fingers held up. Look out of the window and say: ‘It miiiiiiiiiight rain this afternoon’. Do this with a pronunciation of ‘might’ that drops the probability of rain right down. So: pause for a microsecond before the word, extend the vowel, and say the word with a slightly higher pitch. Try it and you’ll find yourself also using a facial expression with slightly closed eyes and head rocking slightly from side to side – like you’re evaluating something.
3 Ask the students: ‘What is the difference between one and two?’ They’ll quickly say that with number two there’s less chance of rain. You can then ask for approximate probabilities, and I usually say 50/50 for the first one, maybe dropping to 20% or 30% for the second.
4 Drill both versions. Alternate one and two. Clear model from you first, then choral repetition on your hand command. Repeat x3.
5 Now ask one particular student what they’re going to do at the weekend, adding ‘choose something 50/50′. Then ask the same student the same question, adding ‘choose something with a low probability, but still possible’. They’ll have a lot of fun trying to get the intonation for #2, and everyone will laugh. Keep it light-hearted, and ask a few more students the same question.
6 Finish by encouraging the students to use ‘I might’ more often, in place of ‘Perhaps I will’ or (Latin languages) ‘It is possible that I will’ or ‘There is a possibility that I will’.
Something very similar happens with ‘should’. For example in a negotiation, ‘That should be possible’ with intonation #1 means perhaps 98% possible – like ‘I’m sure it’ll be okay, but I just need to check a couple of things first’. The same phrase with intonation #2 means perhaps 90% possible – like ‘I think it’ll be okay, but I’m not sure and I can’t promise anything’.