As a teacher, I am always looking for creative and memorable ways to teach language concepts to my students.
Every year I try to include at least one large scale language lesson. It might be the English Language Olympics. It might be my class writing and performing their own play for the rest of the school. This year, I am really excited to set up a classroom crime scene and use it as inspiration for several language activities with my students. It’s not that hard to do, but the impact it has on students is immeasurable. Here’s how you can plan a crime scene for your ESL students and what to do with it once it’s set up.
Set Up a Classroom Crime Scene Expertly
Decide Where It Will Be in Your Classroom
A classroom crime scene takes up a fair amount of space in your classroom. If you share your classroom with someone else or you rotate through different rooms at school, you will need to talk to your coworkers about your plans. Nothing is worse than planning and setting up a large scale prop and then having someone else take it down. So talk with anyone who might be affected by your crime scene (you might even want to encourage them to use it for their classes) and then decide where in the classroom you are going to set it up. If you are planning on making it the center of your lessons for the time it’s set up, go for the gusto and set it up in the center of your class or at the front of the room. If you only want to supplement your lessons with the crime scene, choose a corner where it’s somewhat out of the way.
Think about Your Crime
You can set up a crime scene without a specific crime in mind, but I like to have a little method to my madness. So I suggest thinking about what crime you are trying to stage in your classroom. When choosing your crime, you have to think about your students. This activity works with kids in elementary school, middle school, high school, and even adults, but “crimes” those audiences will be comfortable with will vary greatly. For elementary school students, choose something nonviolent and include playful characters if possible: a unicorn broke into the class and searched through the teacher’s desk looking for glitter, a stuffed animal came to life and tried to make a home for himself from the books on your shelves, a gorilla escaped from the zoo and settled into your reading nook with a good book, or your classroom pets broke out and role played students and teacher in the wee hours of the morning. For older students, you can be a bit more realistic or graphic with your crimes IF your class can handle it: stage a murder by a student who was not accepted into the school, a night janitor tried to steal the answer key for final exams, or something along those lines. Whatever you choose, don’t push your students farther than they will be comfortable with, and keep fright to a minimum.
Set Up Your Clues
Now that you have your place and idea determined, it’s time for the fun – setting up the clues. Let’s say I was going to set up the unicorn example from above. I would try and think about what clues might have been left behind. I might punch a large hole through a folder and its contents (from the horn). I would turn my desk on its back and pull out all the drawers, leaving paper and other supplies scattered around the floor. I would have evidence that the unicorn went through several art supplies – whatever I had handy. I might leave some hoof prints on the floor with washable paint. And I would leave a light trail of glitter from my desk to the window or the door showing the unicorn’s escape.
Rope Off Your Area
You might think setting up the clues is all you will need to do, but don’t stop there! If you don’t do something to keep your students out of the crime scene, your evidence will be tampered with almost immediately. I like to set up a few chairs around the scene (not part of the crime set up) and string caution tape around them. This tells students that they cannot go into the area though they can look at it as much as they like. Before you let anyone else in your classroom, take a picture of your crime scene. You did a lot of work, and you’ll want evidence of your creativity.
Introduce It to Your Students
If it’s possible, enter your classroom at the same time as your students the next day and act as though you are shocked at the scene before you. This makes the whole scenario more realistic even though your students will know it was planned, especially once you start using it for language activities. Encourage your students’ enthusiasm and curiosity about the crime scene, and take lots of pictures of their reactions.
How to use your crime scene
Now that your crime scene is set up, you can use it for all kinds of language activities with your students. Some of the activities will depend on their language level, but here are some activities that you might want to try.
- Use the crime scene to review prepositions. Have students write five to ten sentences describing where different items and clues are in the scene.
- Have students write a list of any clues they find using the passive voice. (The desk is turned over. Glitter is spilled on the ground.)
- Have students think about the clues they see and come up with a solution to the crime. They can then write a narrative of what happened.
- Have one student role play the detective and interview other students about what they saw and what they know.
- Use the crime scene as an opportunity to review modal verbs. Have students share their thoughts on what could have happened and then make suggestions on how the police should proceed.
- Encourage students to talk about the way things should have gone by using conditionals to describe what didn’t happen at the crime scene.
- Have students use this crime scene as inspiration for their own great crime. Have each person think of a crime that could have happened in the classroom and write five to ten clues they would put in place for the class to find. If you like, create the best crime in your classroom.
- Have students predict what the perpetrator is doing now and what he was doing or thinking as he committed the crime with a review of progressive tenses.
Setting up a classroom crime scene may not be for everyone, but one thing is true. If you take the time to create this language experience for your students, they will never forget the lesson or you, their teacher.
Have you tried teaching with a classroom crime scene?
What bits of wisdom would you share with other teachers about your experience?