As I write this post, I'm sitting by my swimming pool enjoying the month of July and reflecting on the past school year. This lesson was one of my favorite lessons, and it was something I'd never tried before. I think it's so important for teachers to continue to learn, grow, and adapt. This lesson was born out of a desire to find a more effective and interesting way to introduce the correct use of the passé composé (compound past tense) & the imparfait (imperfect tense) when describing past events. I used it in my French II class, which for me is the first time the concept is introduced. The idea I came up with is something that I discovered that many elementary school teachers already use...I first saw the idea on Pinterest. Here it is: use a crime scene investigation to get students to recreate a past event. Brilliant!!! I have to say that I've learned a lot from elementary school teachers over the years!
If you've been reading this blog, then you know that I have a classroom mannequin named Jacques. I'm continually making up stories about his life to incorporate into my teaching, and my students absolutely love it. Naturally, I decided to invent a story about a crime that happened to Jacques and his girlfriend, Suzette. Here's what students saw when they entered my classroom that day:
I peaked their interest before they even entered the room by putting caution tape on the door. When they came in, they said things like, "Is this for US?" (with excitement!) I asked them to take a few minutes to observe the crime scene. There were six clues:
3. spilled cup of coffee with lipstick on the cup
4. a spilled purse
5. a bandanna, a mask & blood splatters
6. a shattered mannequin hand & blood splatters
Students went back to their seats and were given a paper with the following questions on it, in French of course:
1. What was the weather like?
2. What time of day was it?
3. How many people were there?
4. What was Suzette (Jacques' girlfriend) doing?
5. What was the bandit wearing?
5. What did the bandit take?
6. What did Jacques hit with his hand?
It was easy for students to figure out that I wanted them to answer the first question with "It was nice weather", and so on. Once they had attempted to answer all of the questions, we reviewed the answers together, and then I asked students to notice what verb tenses were used in each question, and to try to figure out why. This was how I introduced the rules that govern which tense to use when describing the past (students had already mastered how to form the two tenses). Here are a few more photos:
As a side note, if you're wondering about the shattered mannequin hand...you may have noticed in previous photos that Jacques is missing a hand :). The real reason for this is that I dropped it one day, and it shattered. I've always meant to repair it, but haven't. So it's been in my cupboard for years. And students are always asking me what happened to his hand...so this was the perfect opportunity to make up a story about it! He smashed his hand saving his girlfriend from a bandit!
This lesson was very successful. 100% of the class was interested and engaged. Students used critical thinking skills and were able to tell me what the rules were for choosing between the two tenses. And I think they actually enjoyed themselves in the process. I know I did.
I'd like to thank author, teacher and presenter Dave Burgess for validating this approach to teaching. I read his amazing book on the first day of summer vacation this year. It's called Teach Like a Pirate, and if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it! He reminded me that engaging & exciting lessons like this are not less rigorous than those that include lengthy grammar exercises. In fact, he reminded me of the importance of getting students to want to learn what we're trying to teach them. It is essential to their success.
I hope you'll consider trying a crime scene investigation lesson in your class next year! Please feel free to email me if you'd like to see any of the documents I used. I'd be more than happy to share them.
P.S. I found the caution tape at a Halloween store, and I found the footprints, blood splatters and coffee stain via Google images. Also, I am not compensated to promote Dave Burgess' book :).