Teaching Students About the Difference Between ‘Can’ and ‘May’
As a teacher, one of the most important aspects of our job is to ensure that our students are not only learning academic subjects, but that they are also learning life skills that will help them in the future. One of the important life skills that we as educators can teach our students is the difference between ‘can’ and ‘may.’
As simple as it may sound, knowing the difference between the two can help students in multiple ways. Not only will correct usage of ‘can’ and ‘may’ help them communicate more effectively, but it also demonstrates respect towards the person they are speaking to and shows that they understand the importance of proper language.
Before we can teach our students about the difference between ‘can’ and ‘may,’ it is important that we understand the difference ourselves. Simply put, ‘can’ refers to ability or capability, while ‘may’ refers to permission or possibility.
For instance, if a student says, “Can I go to the bathroom?” They are asking if they physically have the ability to leave the classroom and use the restroom. Whereas, if they say “May I go to the bathroom?” They are asking for permission to leave the room.
In classroom situations, it is important that we teach our students to use ‘may’ when asking for permission to do something, whether it be to leave the room, borrow a pencil, or any other request. This shows respect to the teacher or authority figure and sets a proper tone for communication.
In conversational situations, however, the use of ‘can’ is more appropriate as it denotes an inquiry about someone’s abilities or capabilities. For example, if a student asks, “Can you help me with this math problem?” They are asking if the person they have addressed has the ability to assist them.
It is important that we teach our students the difference between these two words and when to use them appropriately. We can incorporate this lesson into our language arts classes, or as part of everyday communication in the classroom.
Benefits of teaching this concept to our students include better communication skills, improved social interactions, and a greater understanding of language. While it may seem small, the difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’ can have a significant impact on our students’ social interactions now and in the future.
As teachers, it is our responsibility to ensure that our students are equipped with the best knowledge and tools for success. By teaching them about ‘can’ and ‘may,’ we are helping them to communicate more effectively while also demonstrating the importance of proper language usage.