Friday, April 22, 2011

An Occurrence in Whitechapel

"As you can see, something terrible has happened here! Your job today is to find out who this person is; who did this to them; and why they did it!"

Thus begins this week's lesson, a create-your-own style mystery set in Victorian England. The student pairs are Mycroft Pound and his friend and associate Dr. Browning, who must work their way to the solution of the crime by reading the "event cards" and deciding what to do next.

3 1/2 hours spent arranging my classroom after school last Friday was the final stage in preparation of this lesson. I adapted the story from one by Helen Brooke titled "Mystery in London", put the events into MS Word, with their various "go to" statements and some appropriate images to suggest atmosphere, and had them laminated.

Laminating was a good move, because as those Dear Readers who have come a-gathering in my Seoul patch for a long time may recall, I did this identical lesson two years ago.

I created an all-new Pound and Browning mystery for last year's classes, "Murder in Hyde Park". I only teach students for two years, so two mysteries is all I need--I'll recycle Hyde Park next year, should I still be here, etc, etc.

After the dramatic introduction and explanation, students pair up as the detective duo and receive their handout:

They have to read the opening and answer a few comprehension questions before they can begin. They record the number of each event card they visit as they go along in the grid below the picture of themselves (that's Mycroft--or more humorously, "Microsoft"--Pound on the left).

I have the luxury of a deserted classroom across the hall from me, so once a team solves the case and answers my exit questions, they can repair next door and work on a puzzle page I made reinforcing key terms from the lesson.

Most students really enjoy doing activities like this--it is challenge for many of them: while the most fluent teams may finish in ten minutes or so, twenty-five minutes is a more likely time frame. Of course, these stories could be adapted further to make them harder to solve, or much easier, depending on your needs. It's one of a teacher's rewards to observe the victory celebration as they exult in completing this task.

Sadly, many of my classes have a few students who resist doing anything productive no matter how I try to motivate them. Frankly, I just do not expend too much energy worrying about them. I would rather focus on the cases where students had not finished the mystery when classtime was over, but still wanted to find out what happened--naturally I or my co would shepherd them through the final cards so they could reach the end.

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