Find the murderer

Speaking and listening activity

Level: Intermediate or advanced

Jacqueline Francois

Target language: Past continuous

1. Write on board: Mrs. McDonald was found dead in her house on Tuesday at eight in the morning. You have to find who killed her and why.

2. Explain to students they are going to prepare a play and perform it (split them in 2 or 3 groups) while one group performs the other watches them. The audience has to guess who the murderer is. (Here you have 2 options, depending on the level, although it works well with pre-intermediate students too.)

3. Preparation: give students enough time to prepare this and help them at this stage, if necessary, especially using the past continuous, e.g. what were you doing yesterday at 7 o'clock etc. (Don't give them any help during the performance.)

  • Option (a) Tell the students they are free to invent a story about why she is dead, and how; they can choose their own personalities and alibis, and decide who will be the inspector as he or she has to prepare a few questions to ask the suspects. They work in groups and they decide who the murderer is amongst themselves. If you have a class of say 8 or 10, divide them in two groups so that they don't know what the other group is planning. This is important when they are going to perform, as the other group who's watching them has to guess who the murderer is just before the end. They can also ask additional questions and for clarification to the performers.
  • (b) or you can give them a few suggestions saying she was very rich, or famous, or whatever comes to your mind. Write on the board a few relatives or friends e.g. her niece, her brother-in-law, her sister, husband, neighbour etc. Write on the board some useful questions e.g. "what were you doing at ....? where were you staying? etc. They prepare the play, but still let them decide who's who.

4. When they are ready, the students perform while the other group or groups watch and listen carefully to decide who the murderer is.

5. Just before the end of the play the performing group stops and asks their audience who they think the murderer is, inviting them to ask any additional questions or for clarification. (At the end I always start clapping for the others to do the same and thank them for their performance.)

6. If the audience guesses right, give them points or a round of applause.

7. Change performers and repeat from point 3.

8. Of course, teachers can use their own imagination or better still get the learners to invent the characters and alibis.

My personal comment: I always ask for feedback, up to now they have always really enjoyed it. I'm always amazed at their imagination, I think the best one was when one group had decided it was suicide! Enjoy and good luck!

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