Classroom Corner: Murder Mystery Lesson Plan

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By Edward Pye

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2016 issue of TEAL News.]

“Murder” is an active vocabulary review and speaking activity that will really engage your students and have them working together closely in teams. It is ostensibly called “Murder” and it works great when you are teaching a topic related to crime; however, the format of the activity can be changed to any topic you can think of. In a recent lesson plan, I adapted it to travel and have used it before for medicine and sports. For the purposes of this article, I will model it using the murder theme.

Objectives:

  • Review vocabulary through description.
  • Practice speaking skills by creating questions and answers.
  • Have students working together in teams to problem solve.

Preparation:

  • Before the class, cut up about 40 strips of paper. How many you need exactly will depend on how many teams you make.

Steps:

  1. First, you need to make teams. Depending on the size of the class, you can do teams of 2, 3 or 4. The activity works best if you have at least 4 teams but not more than 10, so if you have 12 students then go for 4 teams of 3. Put the students into teams, have them sit together, and have them choose a team name. Write the team names on the board.
  2. Next, you need to explain the premise of the activity; Someone has been murdered, (I usually choose another teacher or someone that the students all know, but that isn’t in the class), and the teams need to use their investigation skills to figure out the murder weapon, the scene of the crime, and the murderer.
  3. Put 3 columns on the board; murder weapon, crime scene and suspect.
  4. Start with weapons. As a class, brainstorm different kinds of weapons and write them up on the board. Get them to think of unusual weapons, which adds a little bit of fun to the activity.
  5. You need to brainstorm enough weapons so that there are 2 for each team and 1 extra. If you have 4 teams, the class needs to think of 9 weapons. If there are 5 teams, then 11 weapons.
  6. Do the same for the crime scene and the suspect categories: 2 for each team and 1 extra. With the suspect category, I have them name a student in the class, as well as a fictional job that that student has; for example, “John the Doctor”.
  7. All of these items (weapons, crime scene, and suspects) need to be written on individual pieces of paper, so choose 3 students, give them some strips of paper, and have them write items down as you write them on the board; 1 item for 1 piece of paper.
  8. When all the brainstorming is finished, have the students copy all the information into a notebook, so they can refer back to it.
  9. Now, the teacher should re-collect the individual pieces of paper, keeping them in their categories.
  10. Without showing the students, choose 1 weapon, 1 crime scene and 1 suspect and put it in your pocket. Those 3 pieces of paper are the actual murderer, the crime scene and the weapon that was used, and this is the information that the students need to find.
  11. Next, randomly hand out all the other items to the teams. Each team should get 2 weapons, 2 crime scenes and 2 suspects. Make sure they keep their information secret from the other teams.
  12. Explain to the students that their goal is to find the 3 pieces of information that you put in your pocket. They now have 2 items from each category, so they can eliminate those things from their lists. Give teams 3 or 4 minutes to talk together and make sure they all understand what their items are.
  13. They then have to eliminate the other things from each category by questioning students from other teams about their items. Have the students stand up and go around the class meeting students from other teams to question them about their team’s items.
  14. There is 1 rule here; the students cannot simply go to another student and ask “Does your team have the gun?” They must ask indirect yes/no questions by describing the item. They can ask 3 yes/no questions; for example, “Does your team have a weapon that is made of metal?” If the student answers “yes” then the student can ask another question “Does your team have a weapon that can shoot bullets?” and finally “Is it a gun?”
  15. By getting a yes answer, the student knows that that team has that weapon, and thus this is not the actual murder weapon (because the actual weapon is in the teacher’s pocket.)
  16. If the student gets a “no” answer they must change partners.
  17. Give everyone about 10-15 minutes to go around and question students from other teams about their items. The goal with this part of the activity is to get students interacting and describing items with as much accuracy as possible. This reinforces vocabulary and understanding of the characteristics of the vocabulary.
  18. When that time is up, tell them to go back to their teams and compare the information they have found. Most teams will not have found all the answers because their initial attempts will have been unorganized. Tell them that you are going to give them 5 more minutes, but this time, tell them to make a plan, perhaps 1 student only asks about weapons, 1 only about crime scenes and the other, only about suspects.
  19. When the 5 minutes is up, have them come back together in their teams and compare again to see if they found the answers that are in your pocket. They may have found the exact answer, or they may have eliminated it down to 2 or 3 choices. If they still have possible choices, they have to take a guess.
  20. Have the teams write down on a piece of paper what they think are the actual 3 pieces of information. Collect them, and write them up on the board next to their team name.
  21. Now it’s time to reveal the actual answers and see which team was the best at investigating. The team that has the most correct answers is the winner.

This is the murder version, but it can be done with many different topics. For something like travel, you can change the 3 categories to country, landmark and holiday activity and then have students try to figure out what you did on your vacation. For medicine, you can do symptoms and then get them to try and figure out the actual sickness. The format can work in many different ways.

Biographical Information

From the Winter 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter:  Edward Pye is a New Zealander with an English literature degree from Otago University. Before moving to British Columbia, he taught in South Korea for eight years. Since then, he has worked as an Educational Programmer on UBC’s Okanagan campus and as an EAL instructor at Okanagan College.

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Original reference information:

Pye, E. (2016, Winter). Murder Mystery Lesson Plan. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-TEAL-Newsletter-Winter-2016-FINAL.pdf

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