Low-Prep Murder Mystery

Murder mysteries tend to be very motivating for students. If you haven’t used Murder in the Classroom from Onestopenglish.com then do – it works and it generates a lot of conversation.

The problem with murder mysteries is that they seem to take a lot of prep in order to create interesting characters, all interwoven into one intriguing story.

Here’s a low-prep version that’s based on David Heathfield‘s Murder at the Manor…

Before the class…

Write a short introduction giving details of the victim, the time of the murder and any clues that may have been found at the scene. Here’s a screenshot of mine…


Find some pictures of interesting-looking people to be the suspects (and the students’ alter egos). If you’re working with an unimaginative group, then it’s good to use pictures that suggest a profession, but really any pictures will do. Here are some that I chose…

You can download the Word document here… murder mystery characters

Finally, write a short conclusion that wraps up the murder. Leave space to add a character’s name later (see end of post).

In class

Set up: Show the picture of the victim and read the introduction together with the students.

Characters 1: Show the pictures of the suspects. Each student chooses one to be their alter ego. Elicit names, professions and links to the victim. Ideally, this is best done open class so that all students get to know the suspects’ identities as they go along. It’s also a great opportunity to deal with emerging language. The teacher leads the discussion, eliciting ideas from all students until each has a character picture with name written on (other information can go on the back).

Characters 2: Now (individually) each student needs to think of 5 things:

  • what were they doing at the time of the murder?
  • did they see or hear anything suspicious that evening?
  • what time did they go to bed?
  • what was their opinion of the victim?
  • what’s their secret?! maybe they’re the victim’s child or ex-lover, maybe they’re on the run or they’re living a double life as a … (get the students to use their imagination!)

The students note this information down on the back of their character card, so the picture and name is facing out and the info is facing them.

Detective time!

Let the students mingle and gather information about each other.  This is a good opportunity for the teacher to monitor and note down language. The teacher can also take a more active role as the detective, modelling language that students can then use.

If you have time, stop the mingle mid-way and look at some language. My students needed work on question intonation as they were sounding very monotone. Also, by this mid point, they’d had plenty of practice of asking questions and giving their info, so now we folded over the questions and they held they covered their character information. This improved their fluency and accuracy when we continued after error correction.

The interaction got a little repetitive, so we changed an had some time with characters in the hotseat at the front of the class. This gave other students a chance to ask more probing questions and hopefully get someone to contradict themselves.

The reveal!

With ten minutes to go I asked students who they thought was guilty and why. With no role cards, nobody knew who was innocent or not. While students were mingling, I had quickly typed in the name of one of the characters that students had come up with, so when this finally turned up on the final slide, they were pretty amazed to find out that they were the murderer.

Here’s my final slide…

and the killer is

Debbie is a running joke in this class since we talked about viral videos and her ‘I love cats‘ video. With the name added at the end, the mystery was over. Alternatively, you an just have students vote on who the murderer is.

The students spoke a lot of English in this lesson, and the fact that most of the input was generated by them seemed to make it really motivating for them.

I’m looking forward to adding to the character list and creating a new situation. Here are some thoughts…

  • Who stole the Queen’s crown?
  • Who stole Luke’s lightsaber? (All characters Star Wars themed)
  • Who killed _______________? (insert celebrity’s name).
  • Superhero murder mystery.
  • Famous villains murder mystery.



Murder Mystery characters




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