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.
Smart Notebook file with versions 1,2 and 3 and pages to write character descriptions
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.
Thank you for such a detailed description! I am just beginning to think about how to add TPRS and embedded readings to my classes. I’m reading a lot but not sure where to start. Such an example of this helps me see a more clear picture! Thank you so so much!
I’m going to try this today with my Spanish II class! Thanks so much for sharing…estoy muy agradecida. 🙂
Awesome! Let me know if you need help with anything along the way.
I love this! My grade goes on a class trip every year to see a Murder Mystery play in Washington DC. This would be perfect to do when we get back after the trip. Thanks so much for posting this! One question — what motive did you have for the scared man? That’s the only one I couldn’t come up with a good one for.
Thanks! I hope it fits well. I don’t start with any motives. That is the part I let students develop. We’ve had some pretty funny motives for the scared man over the years. He saw the host beat up a pizza man for arriving late. He believed the host was a ghost. He owed money to the host . . . etc. Allow students to come up with something. Of course, they are limited by the vocabulary that they have up until that point, so you may want to have something in mind that you can guide them towards.
I am having issues downloading the three versions of the story. Are they available as a pdf or word document at all?
There really isn’t much to the first two versions (I can paste the text here) and version 3 is created using the information generated by the class.
Había un hombre que se llamaba Luis. Invitó a muchas personas a su casa para una cena especial. Nueve personas fueron a su casa. Después de comer, Luis estaba muerto. Alguien lo mató. Alguien llamó a la policía. Dos detectives llegaron a la casa, pero no sabían quién lo mató.
Había un hombre que se llamaba Luis. Era rico y bien conocido Tenía una barba glorioso. Tenía muchos amigos y muchos enemigos. Invitó a muchas personas a su casa el viernes a las 8:00 de la noche para una cena especial. Nueve personas fueron a su casa: su ex-esposa, su jefe, un hombre pobre, un hombre loco, un hombre alcohólico, un hombre que tenía celos de Luis, un hombre que tenía miedo de Luis, una mujer que estaba enamorada de Luis, una mujer que estaba enojada con Luis Después de comer, Luis estaba muerto. Alguien lo mató. Alguien llamó a la policía. Dos detectives llegaron a la casa, pero no sabían quién lo mató.