There are several variations on this classic TEFL activity (including a Hungarian one called “I’ve been to America”), but the standard one goes something like this:
I ask my students if they have heard that the ___ down the street was robbed last night. If they are at a lower level, we might also brainstorm or teach some vocabulary connected with crime that they need for the activity. Well, it was robbed, I tell them, and the police haven’t caught the robbers, but they think they know who did it (What do we call those people, the police think they did it, but they’re not sure? Suspects, yes.). The suspects are here in this class, and they are (choose two or three of the most talkative students and have them come to the front).
These students have five minutes — and time them — to leave the room and come up with a story about what they were doing for the two-hour time period in question the night before.
The other students — the majority of the group — are the police, and their task is to work in small groups and question the suspects individually to see if their stories match.
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Giving both the police and the suspects prompts helps (you were at a restaurant — what did all of you eat, who paid, what did you talk about, what did the waiter look like — check out the Cutting Edge Intermediate Teacher’s Book for more examples), but make sure to tell both groups that the police can ask about anything (within reason) that happened in that two hour window. The suspects cannot say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember”; if the police ask something, they have to answer. If the suspects’ stories match — there are no discrepancies — they must be found not guilty and set free. But if there are differences, they are guilty.
After the five minutes during which the suspects are making up their story and the police are thinking of questions, each group of police interviews one of the suspects — at the same time. They have exactly one minute (possibly longer for lower levels), and after one minute, the suspects switch groups and the police interview again. One person should take notes. At the end, the police share with the group what they found.
This activity is good for speaking fluency and practicing questions in general. It’s fun and useful , and there is something intrinsically motivating about trying to find holes in someone’s story.