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How to talk about ability using "can"?

"Can" is a modal verb and has a range of uses. One of those is to talk about general ability. This is something that you have learned in the past and you can now do at any time you want, such as being able to ride a bike, swim or play a musical instrument.

Verbs following "can" take the infinitive form.

Can takes the following forms:

  • positive: I can ride a bike. (can + infinitive)
  • negative: She can't swim. (can + not + infinitive)

This is a high energy lesson which is great fun and allows your students to pick up the structures quickly. Parts of this lesson can be used in other lessons as energy burners (especially the song).

Lesson Procedure:

Warm Up and Maintenance:

See our "Warm Up & Wrap Up" page.


New Learning and Practice:

Teach the actions vocab1. Teach the actions vocab
Start with flashcards of the actions in the song (jump, run, swim, hop, stomp my feet, turn around). Have all your students stand up and pull out the first flashcard (e.g. "Jump"). Get the students to do the action as soon as you reveal the card. Shout out the word as you are all doing the action and encourage everyone to shout the word as well. Do this for all 6 cards.

2. Play "Quick flashcard actions"
Lay the flashcards face down on the ground and mix them up. With your students still standing, quickly turn over one Play "Quick flashcard actions"card for all to see and shout out the action (e.g. jump). Everyone jumps for a second or two. Then turn over another card and shout the action for everyone to do. This should be quick paced with actions changing frequently.

After a few rounds mix the cards up again and pick up one card. This time don’t show it to everyone – look at it yourself and then shout out the word (e.g. "Run!") and see if everyone does the right action. If they are having problems show the card. Do this for all of the cards until everyone is getting the actions right.

3. Play "Teacher Says"
This is the game "Simon Says" but using the word "teacher", or your name, instead. Go straight into the game (no explanations necessary) by saying "Teacher says (jump)". Do the action and make sure everyone else follows along. Do a few more "run, turn around, swim, etc." Then at some point give a command without the "Teacher says" part (e.g. "Jump!"). First time round, everyone will jump, so make it very clear that they shouldn’t do this when you don’t say "Teacher says". After a while your students will get the hang of it. Play the game faster and faster. When a student makes a mistake they have to sit the rest of the game out. The last student standing is the winner.

4. Teach "Can you ..?", "I can …"
Teach "Can you ..?", "I can …"Take out two more flashcards for the actions "fly" and "ride a bike". Have all your students sit down. Pull out the "Jump" flashcard. Say "I can jump" – point to yourself and nod your head. Then jump and again say "I can jump". Do the same for another flashcard (e.g. run). Then pull out the "fly" flashcard. Look surprised and shake your head, saying "No. I can’t fly". Motion trying to fly but falling on the ground.

You can also ask some students "Can you fly?" – some are bound to say "Yes", but look
shocked and say "No. No I don’t think so.". Next do a few more actions (turn around, hop) and then pull out the "ride a bike" flashcard. Again, say “I can’t ride a bike” and motion trying to but falling off. Then finish with the remaining flashcards (you can choose whether to say you can or can’t swim).

Now, pull out a flashcard (e.g. hop) and say to the class "Can you hop?". Encourage everyone to say, "Yes, I can hop” and show you how. Do this with all of the flashcards – try and encourage some to say they can’t do some actions (e.g. ride a bike, swim and especially fly!).

5. Sing the "What Can You Do?" song
Place the flashcards on the board in order of the song, or pin up the "What Can You Do?" song poster. Play the song and sing along – encourage everyone to sing and do the actions with you. For the first time you use this song, play it a couple of times.

Gestures for "What Can You Do?"Lyrics for "What Can You Do?"

(Each verse gets faster and faster)

Verse 1:
What can you do? What can you do?

Can you jump? I can jump!
Jump, jump, jump, jump, jump, jump,
jump, jump, jump, I can jump!

Can you run? I can run!
Run, run, run, run, run, run,
run, run, run, I can run!

Verse 2:
What can you do? What can you do?

Can you swim? I can swim!
Swim, swim, swim, swim, swim, swim,
swim, swim, swim, I can swim!

Can you hop? I can hop!
Hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop,
hop, hop, hop, I can hop!

Verse 3:
What can you do? What can you do?

Can you stomp your feet? I can stomp my feet!
Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp,
stomp, stomp, stomp, I can stomp my feet!

Can you turn around? I can turn around!
Turn, turn, turn, turn, turn, turn,
turn, turn, turn, I can turn around!

Verse 4:
(Let’s do all six!)
Let’s jump, jump, jump, jump, jump, jump.
Let’s run, run, run, run, run, run.
Let’s swim, swim, swim, swim, swim, swim.
Let’s hop, hop, hop, hop, hop, hop.
Let’s stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp.
Let’s turn, turn, turn, turn, turn, turn.
Lets jump, run, swim, hop, stomp, turn.
We can!

(download MP3 here)

Gestures for "What Can You Do?"

The actions to this song are simple – simply do each action as they come up in the song. It’s probably best for everyone to do the actions on the spot otherwise things could get a bit hectic!

We also have a video that you can stream in class to sing along with (Internet connection required):

What can you do?

Do "Basic Actions Ability" worksheet6. Do "Basic Actions Ability" worksheet
To finish off this section of the lesson, give out worksheets which have the vocab from the song. As your students are doing the worksheets, ask questions (e.g. "What is this?", "Can you swim?", etc.).

7. Read classroom reader "I Can"
To finish off this section of the lesson, we'll read a nice, simple story. Before class, download and print off the reader "I Can". As you go through each page, point to the pictures and elicit each key word, for example:

Read classroom reader "I Can"Teacher: What is this?
Students: It's a rabbit.
Teacher: And here the rabbit says "I can ..."
Students: Jump!
Teacher: (to students) Can you jump?
Students: Yes! (students start jumping)

Get the students really involved in the story by asking lots of questions (e.g. eliciting colors and other objects) and getting them to do the actions in the story.

Wrap Up:

1. Assign Homework: "Basic Actions Ability 3" worksheet.
2. Wrap up the lesson with some ideas from our "Warm Up & Wrap Up" page.

Print Outs / Worksheets:


  • tag


  • run


  • swim


  • hop


  • stomp/stamp feet

    stomp/stamp feet

  • turn around

    turn around

  • fly 1


  • ride a bike

    ride a bike


Songs & Readers:

Warning Found a mistake?
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  1. To view and print a flashcard or worksheet click on the thumbnail image.
  2. For detailed printing instructions, click here.
  3. print= British English version - click the flag to open and print. Click the thumbnail image to see the US English version.
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