The scene of the crime: past narrative

Review… Can it be effective in WL classrooms??? We need to get a feeling for what our students have acquired and yet honor the fact that memorizing and really using grammatical concepts are different! It’s hard to find a balance… Hard until I saw Martina Bex’s post about a crime scene investigation… The perfect scenario for a past narrative! Here is my experience in day 3 Spanish 3 and 4 today:

Students entered the room and found that someone had robbed us!



Chalk outlines marked the scenes of the crimes… Two large beanbags and a blue rug. Evidence was everywhere!



First, I explained that there had been a crime. I set the scene by telling students that the police thought that the robbery occurred around 11pm and that there were a lot of clues to the identity of the robber.

All students took a silent evidence gathering tour of the two crime scenes. When they returned to their table, they had to create a police report that detailed all evidence and missing items.




After the lists were complete, they took a second tour of the evidence looking specifically for clues to the criminal’s identity. They found a “to do” list signed SMS and an English textbook that pointed toward our English teacher neighbors.

With a suspect in mind, groups made a questionnaire for their interrogation. What questions could they ask to prove she had done it?

I collected the papers and then the students narrated the night’s events in the past tense. Finally, we typed out their theories about why she had not “destroyed the evidence” as she planned to on the “to do” list!

Tomorrow we will start by discussing our investigation and then will watch the newly released “crime scene video”… And she will probably end up behind bars!

Lots of great past tense reps in a fun and funny context!! Even if you’re already back in swing, this is worth the work involved in setting it up!

Author: senoracmt

I began teaching Spanish in Illinois in 1994. I have taught levels 1-4 in a small rural high school, 8th grade introductory Spanish, Biology 1, and 101 and 102 at the community college level. My Spanish classes are partnered with the community college to offer students 8 semester hours of dual credit on completion of Spanish 4. In 2011 I met Carol Gaab and Kristy Placido and have since co-authored the book "La hija del sastre" with Carol Gaab and authored the novels "La Calaca Alegre", "Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos." "Vector," "48 horas","Bananas", "Sostenible", and "Papálotl" through Fluency Matters. In 2006 I became National Board certified and I have been serving as a mentor both for candidates seeking certification in world languages other than English and a virtual mentor for candidates in all certificate areas. I completed my Masters degree in Spanish education in 2011 and did my research on the use of Understanding by Design to create meaningful cultural units for the language classroom. I am a frequent presenter on this topic, please consider me if you are interested in a workshop on backward design. In 2013 I was named the ICTFL Foreign Language teacher of the year and in 2014 I was selected as CSCTFL's teacher of the year. In November of 2014 I was lucky enough to be one of the five finalists for the ACTFL National Teacher of the Year in San Antonio, TX. What a "Cinderella" experience! You can reach me via email at senoracmt at

3 thoughts

  1. What? This is awesome! What a great and novel way to have discussions in the past tense and guide students to be creative communicating about something that happened.

  2. Preterit, Imperfect, or both? I am just now getting into the Imperfect with my Spanish 3 class and the next chapter puts it together with the preterit, trying to see if this would work… you have a rubric or instructions document that you used?

    1. We use both. I just use them in context as appropriate! Since I don’t have a traditional text I don’t have to separate! No grade, just a way to recycle common past tense verbs. It generated a lot of good discussion!

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