Not long ago, we completed a short murder mystery unit. I developed the unit because I wanted a good setting to expose students to the use of preterite and imperfect in Spanish. The unit was based around an embedded reading. The steps are below with some links to documents. This activity can be adapted for any class or extended for other settings.
1. Introduce and practice new vocabulary that will be important and used often. For me, it was:
estaba enamorado(a) – was in love
tenía miedo – was afraid
alguien lo mató – someone killed him
2. Read version 1. A very simple paragraph that summarizes the story without giving away the ending or developing details.
There was a man. He invited people to his house for a dinner. 9 people went. After dinner, the host was dead. Someone killed him. Someone called the police. Two detectives went to the house but didn’t know who killed him.
3. Read version 2. A slightly more developed version, which includes who the 9 guests were:
The host’s ex-wife, his boss, a poor man, a crazy man, an alcoholic, a jealous man, a scared man, a woman who was in love with him and an angry woman.
4. Read version 3 and finish it as a class. In version 3, the teacher and class write the descriptions for each of the 9 guests. Students have a sheet to write descriptions and the teacher writes on the smartboard/computer. Describe each character’s physical appearance, personality, relationship to the host and why he/she was angry/jealous/scared/in love . . . etc. Basically, create motives for murder for each character. Use students from class as names for each of the nine.
5. Practice activities. On the back of the sheet on which students wrote descriptions, I had them draw the scene from the dinner. The drawings were used for speaking and writing practice. Students can also be asked to give their opinion of who the killer was and why. Use contests or other techniques to build anticipation about the ending.
6. Read the final version. Because each class has created its own version, it is necessary to write a different final version for each class (I had to write 4). I chose to have the woman in love be the murderer because I wanted to get more reps of “enamorada”. It could be different for each class. The final reading can be part of an assessment.