All the Ways to Sway: Exploring and Creating More Complex Persuasive Texts

4. Modality and Meaning

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To co-construct a persuasive text
  • To understand how modality is achieved using modal verbs, adverbs, adjectives and nouns

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can explain what 'modality' means
  • I can identify and use specific vocabulary to communicate different shades of meaning
  • Printed list of modal verbs: docx PDF
  • Sample Word Cline: PDF
  • Access to ClickView (log in with your department credentials) (optional)
  • Graphic organisers: pptx PDF
  • Adhesive

In this stage of the sequence the focus is on guided practice, which enables teachers and students to jointly construct a text.

Introduce the concept of modality to students by providing a list of modal verbs and inviting the class to contribute to the creation of a word cline on the board or wall. The word ‘cline’ comes from the Greek ‘clino’ meaning ‘to slope’ and refers to a scale that rates the impact of language, for example positive to negative, or from light to dark (a sample cline is provided in the Materials and Texts section). Alternatively, students could be allocated a modal verb like ‘should’ or ‘could’ and be invited to arrange themselves into a physical continuum to reflect the intensity of their verb. 

Use a prompt about an issue that is important to your students, such as climate change to stimulate opinion before inviting them to begin ranking the verbs.

Expand on the concept of modality further by demonstrating how it can be achieved through the deliberate use of adverbs, adjectives and nouns to communicate the degree of obligation or certainty involved in an action. For example:

Discuss the impact of modality in relation to the intention of the author and the perception of the audience. E.g. how might language choices request, suggest, order, advise or compel the reader to act or think?

1. Collaborative learning/independent research

Collaborate with your class to choose a contentious topic, such as the impact of climate change, the efficacy of student climate change protests or the issue of climate change denial. Sign into ClickView using your department credentials to view these video resources.

Decide on a stance as a class and then brainstorm a range of possible arguments to support it. Invite students to form small groups or allocate students to groups as appropriate and assign one argument to each group. Allow time for independent research, reminding students to give consideration to the credibility of their sources.

Suggested tasks for each group:

  • Create a statement summarising the relevant argument
  • Brainstorm supporting points & arrange points from strongest to weakest
  • Provide evidence for each supporting point
  • Create a conclusion or suggest a recommended action (incorporating modal verbs).

Provide groups with a variety of graphic organisers to help record and organise their ideas, such as a tri-pie, funnel and four corner organiser.

2. Joint construction

Come back together as a class and allow time for each group to summarise their position. Decide as a class which two arguments are the strongest/have the most compelling evidence and then use them to jointly construct one or two persuasive paragraphs.

Suggested process for joint construction:

  • Collaborate to devise a strong topic sentence to summarise each argument.
  • Brainstorm supporting evidence and arrange arguments/evidence into a logical order.
  • Brainstorm potential extended metaphors to help make a point. In relation to climate change, for example: Hundreds of millions of people enjoy a gigantic, abundant banquet, but when the bill arrives -- and it is enormous -- some deny there is a bill, some deny that they ate anything at the banquet, others argue that the bill isn’t theirs to pay; many say if they just ignore the bill, it will go away.
  • Co-create sentences that support the main contention/topic sentence.
  • Consider how modality can be achieved through the deliberate use of modal verbs, adverbs, nouns and adjectives.

Provide students with time to record the paragraph/s in a format that allows for annotation.


Enable students to engage in this task by utilising individual or small group conferences to revisit ideas, vocabulary and concepts such as verbs, adverbs, adjectives and nouns, and to practise using them in a sentence. Experiment with using modal verbs in informal conversations.

Ask students to annotate the jointly constructed paragraph, colour coding the words that are being used to persuade. For example, students could highlight modal verbs in green, adverbs in pink, nouns in blue or adjectives in orange. 


Extend students by offering them the opportunity to independently construct a paragraph that incorporates the concepts explored during joint construction.

Invite students to share their annotations with the class, revisiting concepts as appropriate. Collect annotated paragraphs for assessment and review.

ABC News, 2018. Students strike for climate change protests, defying calls to stay in school. [Online]
Available at: 
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Bloomberg Markets and Finance, 2019. Greta Thunberg to World Leaders: 'How Dare You!'. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

ClickView, 2011. The Sceptics - Climate Change. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

ClickView, 2014. 7.30 Report, Climate Change. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Creately, n.d. Visualize Hierarchy of Concepts. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Derewianka, B., 2011. A New Grammar Companion for Teachers. 2 ed. Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association.

Salamon, M. K., 2013. Best Metaphors for the Climate Crisis. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Second Level Support Service, 2008. Using Graphic Organisers in Teaching and Learning. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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