MYSTĒRIUM: A Whodunnit Game In Latin
My students have had a decent time playing our RPG lite “The Game” series, so I went looking for something else with more interaction and collaboration that first year language students could handle on their own without me leading it like The Game. I stumbled across this first-day History class activity from a while back. To be clear, I loath group work for the sake of group work, and have found a lot of it to be a near-complete waste of time. Therefore, I didn’t just want a “who dunnit?” kind of game that meant nothing with barely any Latin processed. I also loath tasks using language that’s way too hard for students to understand. It’s pointless and frustrating, for all of us. That all brought me to coming up with a series of clues and distractions, all using high frequency Latin that first year students could understand in the second half of the year.
The idea behind this whodunnit is for a group of students to reconstruct the events of something—usually not good, but doesn’t have to be violent or upsetting—from a collection of clues. For this first one, I went with a basic print & distribute, although you could treat it almost like an escape room with puzzles getting solved and clues being turned into the teacher in order to move on to the next puzzle. Too much work if you ask me, though. Here’s the basic outline of what I gathered:
- Culprit & their motive
- Real clues
- Distractions (e.g., contradicting statements, alibis, etc.)
Just make sure you’ve got only one suspect with a motive and no alibi. You also gotta mess with the details and lightly throw off students so they have to think through the logic. For example, toss in a distraction of a character doing something at a particular time, but have that time end up being irrelevant to the solution. Or, make it sneaky and appear to offer a solution, but then get contradicted by another. For example, if a book was stolen, someone could be seen carrying a book in one distraction, but then the book is identified as not the one stolen in another clue.
For this first whodunnit, I went with the basic and familiar school setting of our Academic Dean stealing a student’s hamburger-shaped backpack while everyone was in P.E. class. All I had to do to make it realistic was check the student’s schedule and make clues & distractions about the time of day they had P.E., etc. Other clues involved students who were in the same class as alibis. I think this personalized element created a lot of buy-in.
I will admit that this took the longest prep so far this year, about an hour, but the payoff really was worth it, and now I have a workflow to be able to put one of these together much faster. I also made things easier by printing 4 sets of clues per class. So, regardless of how many students were in a class section, each period had 4 groups working together. Once printed and cut into strips, I placed them in envelops, as well as a graphic organizer to help sort out details under the prompt of “what do we know about ______,” listing each of the people’s names from the clues. EZPZ.
In terms of gameplay, I distributed envelops to groups, then monitored while they worked together for probably 15 minutes. Perhaps next time I’ll set a time limit so the last group *must* guess by that time. I collected all the envelops, then projected the clues and we chorally translated as a class. This part extends the whole experience, and in a couple cases I heard “oh no” from a group. Many asked me about a few new words (that I knew students didn’t know), but others chose not to. They either guessed, or ignored them, and this choral translation exposed that. Afterwards, I asked the whole class who the culprit could NOT be based on the clues and alibis, discussed motives, and then revealed whodunnit. I had written a couple sentences or two, but one other idea is to have a whole story ready to go. Alternatively, knowing the basic situation, you could do collaborative storytelling to come up with the story as a whole class. That would significantly extend the whole activity. My version lasted about 40min. Check it out:
Neveah’s hamburger backpack has been stolen. Who’s the thief?
- Mr Howes stole it on Thursday as students went to gym class.
- Why? It was his daughter’s birthday and he didn’t have a gift.
Clues & Distractions
- pēra hamburger discipulae Neveah rapta est—ēheu!
- Neveah nōn habēbat pēram in classe P.E.
- pēra rapta est diē Iovis, tertia Mārtiī
- diēs Mercuriī erat Diēs A in scholā.
- pēra rapta est dum Neveah habēbat classem P.E.
- pēra rapta est inter 9:29 et 10:53 (ante merīdiem)
- diēs natālis fīliae Magistrī Howes est quārta Mārtiī
- discipulus Londen nōn vīdit Magistrum Howes in cubiculō diē Iovis
- Magistrae Silvers placent pērae extraōrdināriae
- Magistra Silvers in classe inter 9:29 et 10:53 (ante merīdiem) erat
- Iacobus nōn habet classem P.E. cum discipulā Neveah
- Magistra Barbeau vīdit discipulum Iacobum in classe inter 9:29 et 10:53 (ante merīdiem)
- diē Mārtis, discipula Luna et Neveah pugnābant (vocābulīs)
- Luna habet classem P.E. cum discipulā Neveah