Making the Most of Mystery

wooden box 200x200Last year, with input from students, I wrote a mystery one of whose central features is a small, sealed box that the protagonist finds and seeks to open. The desire to know what’s in the box plays a key role in propelling the reader through the story.

Last night, I came across a brilliantly simple suggestion from Adam Beck (@BeckMonkeys) for making use of containers with secret contents in language classes. (Adam operates the vast and marvelous site for parents like me who are raising bilingual children.)

Most of the pertinent article is about using the concept of mystery to encourage one’s children to speak a particular language. But Adam also recalls a classroom application:

When I was an English teacher at Hiroshima International School, I found a fancy green box with a velvet interior and I christened it “The Magic Box.” Then every day, before each class, I would hide something in it. This activity quickly caught on with my students and they would rush into my room and pepper me with questions and guesses in English, their second language, as I offered hints. Finally, after taking full advantage of this exchange to elicit language from them, I would open “The Magic Box” and produce the secret object.

Why not try this and see what happens? It takes up very little time and adds a powerful layer of class culture.

In addition to the non-targeted conversations about the secret contents, think of all the stories your students could spin about the possible contents, as well as the targeted conversations you could foster:

-Indirect speech: Ginny bets that a slow loris is in the box. What do you think is in the box?

-Tenses: What was in the box yesterday? What do you think the box will contain tomorrow?

-Comparatives and superlatives: What’s the craziest (biggest, smallest, most expensive, worst smelling, etc.) thing that has ever been in the box? Is today’s item bigger (smaller, prettier, etc.) than yesterday’s?

-Conditionals: If you guess correctly what’s in the box, then I will sing “Shake It Off” backward in the language of your choice.

And don’t forget about other ways of incorporating mystery into your class: prizes, stories, riddles, pictures, optical illusions, current TV dramas, absent students’ whereabouts,…

Have fun!

To become a Master Questioner equipped with even more ways to form and use questions to sustain compelling interactions, check out my recorded webinar It’s All about the Questions!

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