I found a pin on Pinterest last night that immediately reminded me of Dave Burgess and his Pirate-like ways! It is a blog post about using crime scenes in language classes from BusyTeacher.org, and I think that it would make the PERFECT first-day-of-classes activity for returning language students. (Click here for other first-week-of school activities for first year and upper level language classes.) Here is what you do:

  1. Set up a crime scene. This must be done before class, so that the scene is ready to go when you walk in! If you do a Google Image search for “classroom crime scene ideas”, you will see many different ideas. Oddly, it appears that these are more common in elementary classes than in middle or high school. Why that is…I have no idea. The crime scene should be set up in a way that makes it seem that a real area of your room was affected–your reading nook, your bookshelves, your teacher desk, etc. You should fill it with ‘clues’ of many kinds–either clues that fit into a story that you have already developed about the crime, or clues that you’d like to see students try to fit together in order to develop an explanation. If you’re short on time or creativity as the start of school approaches, you can use my idea for a teacher abduction crime scene. In addition to your main clues, be sure to include other random objects that the students know how to describe in the target language–items of clothing, classroom supplies, etc. The finishing touch should be to tape off the area with crime scene tape–if possible!Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.04.31 PM
  2. Photograph the crime scene. Take pictures now of every ‘important’ clue in the crime scene…just in case students mess it up as the day goes on.
  3. Reveal the crime scene. This can be as easy as allowing the students to walk into the room. If you want to make it more plausible, you might need to bring in other people to help you out–for example, if it appears that the teacher (you) was abducted, perhaps another teacher could greet students at the door. Since it’s the first day of school, however, that might not work so well. If you share your classroom with another teacher or have a student aid desk in your room, it would be ideal to do my example set-up as though that teacher were abducted. Allow students to observe the crime scene as they enter the room, but be sure that they don’t touch anything and contaminate the evidence!
  4. Describe the crime scene. Lead a class discussion about the crime scene. Start by asking students, “What do you see?”. As they offer up responses, have one student record the class’s observations (on a projector, if possible), and circle, personalize, and check for comprehension throughout the discussion.
  5. Form a theory. Now, go back to the list of things that students observed and ask questions that your students would be able to answer at their level of language learning. Depending on their level, it might be “There is a [thing that someone observed]. What could that mean?” or “What happened?”. Take suggestions from the class in a teacher-led discussion–always circling, personalizing, checking for comprehension, and fishing for more details. Compare and contrast students’ theories to see which one the class prefers. Combine them when appropriate in order to come up with one plausible theory for the class. Your theory should explain what happened as well as why it happened. What was the motive? Which emotions were involved in the crime? If students have the language to handle it, talk about what the police/the perpetrator/the victim should or should not do now or could have done differently to avoid this terrible fate.
  6. Report the crime. As a class or individually (as a writing activity), write down the ‘official report’ of the crime. If students do it individually, it would be great to have them record it on a copy of the actual Incident Report Form used by the administrators at your school. If you do it as a class, have someone type it (on a projector, if possible).
  7. Review the crime. The next day (or several days later), you can use the pictures that you took of the crime scene for a speaking or writing activity. Have students describe the pictures or answer specific questions about them that include information from the class’s story–for example, “Why is there blood on the wig?” or “Who was the other person in the photo?”, or “What was [teacher] doing when the criminal arrived?”. You could also give students a picture of “buried evidence” (a new clue) that was not included in the original crime scene, and they could explain how it fits into the class’s theory.

Above all, keep the activity focused on COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT–do more teacher-led discussion and reading-based activities than individual output activities (remember that students have many opportunities for output in discussion that is led by the teacher), and keep the language comprehensible.

If you end up doing this on your first day of classes, please send me a photo of your crime scene!! You can email it to martinaebex@gmail.com or post it on the new Facebook page for The Comprehensible Classroom!

Click on image to access crime scene plans

I’ve also written a full crime scene unit that targets the estar + participle construction. Click here to check it out!

13 replies on “Going back to school is a CRIME!

  1. This is a great idea. Any simple crimes for level 1B Spanish? They don’t know the words for crimes yet, like stolen, killed, took, missing, lost, etc. I’d love to do it, but need help with some ideas using just the basic 1st half of a level 1 textbook’s vocabulary. Thanks!

    1. You could always use those verbs as their target structures for the lesson! You’d get enough repetitions out of them to get the kids well on their way to acquisition. I’ll try to think of some simple crime scenes, too, though 🙂

  2. This is fun! I have other ways of starting the year, but this seems like a great way to break up the routine, especially in that painful February/March stretch.

  3. Thank you for this post, this is pure pirate teaching! I am definitely going to do this when we return from the Christmas/Holiday break. I prefer to spend the first few days of school figuring out what my students have been up to since I had them in middle school 🙂

  4. i am SOOOO doing this crime scene as my mid-year re-hook activity for when the students are returning from winter break. how fun will it be to set up the crime scene 1 afternoon during break & have the students come back to find chaos—- now let’s hope it doesn’t snow & truly cause chaos.

  5. I did the crime scene on my first day in one class, and the second in another (we meet once/week). What a hit with the Spanish 3’s and 2’s and French 2’s. Discussion among Spanish 3 was GREAT considering it’s been all summer — especially when they came to discussing what they THOUGHT might have happened …”They were eating” “stole” “killed each other” — sooo good. I will try to upload some pix of my very low-skill, low-tech crime scene. It might encourage someone else?

    Well, I don’t know how to send a photo. Sorry?

  6. I’ve been thinking that this is something that might tie in really well with the “Voyage de sa vie” novel – it’s all about trying to solve a big crime! Would be great to practice passé composé as well.

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