Clue by Clue: The Unrelated Murder

Clue by Clue: Unrelated Murder Critical Thinking Activity asks students to solve a murder mystery with no apparent motive. But there’s more than meets the eye. This mystery, based on a classic premise, requires students to think carefully and put together information from a variety of clues.

What are Clue by Clues

Clue by Clues are fun mystery games I came up with to share my love of solving mysteries with my classes. Students work in small groups to solve a puzzle. The catch is that they are given each clue one at a time. This slows down the mystery solving process, meaning students spend more time discussing each clue and revising their theories. That means more time using critical thinking skills. It also means more talking time as students discuss the importance of each clue, reevaluate their previous ideas, and try to persuade others of their point of view.

Each Clue by Clue is solvable and the clues are carefully written to lead students down the path to the answer by eliminating alternative theories. There are also hint questions that teachers can give to students.

Why Clue by Clues

Clue by Clues make great warm-up activities, fillers, or time killers for those last minutes of class and early finishers. They can be critical thinking activities that teach students to look for details, synthesize information from different sources, apply prior knowledge about the world, and to recognize the logic of a claim and evaluate its validity.

They are also a lot of fun!

While students are solving the mysteries they are also developing their spoken language skills, such as:
* Modal verbs of speculation: She must have forgotten her keys, It could have been the butler
* Opinion language: I think…., I’m positive…, I’m not sure…
* Hedging: It’s possible, probably, maybe, it’s not impossible.
* Conclusions: That means that…
* Emphasis: There’s no way that…
* Hypotheticals: What if he didn’t do it, If he was at the movies, he couldn’t have done it.

Where to Get Clue by Clue Critical Thinking Activities

You can download and purchase Clue by Clue: Unrelated Murder Critical Thinking Activity at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. And check out my ever-growing section of mystery activities and lesson plans for other classroom resources!

Also available as a PowerPoint presentation game

Augmented Reality Advertising & Marketing App | Visual Search Browser

Leading Visual Discovery App using most advanced mobile Augmented Reality. Blipp objects you’re curious about and unlock useful and entertaining content.

Source: Augmented Reality Advertising & Marketing App | Visual Search Browser

This is really amazing. I was led to Blippar by this post on an augmented word wall. I can only imagine the things you could do with this in the classroom:

  • Add pronunciation to a word wall or vocab poster.
  • Add examples, whether audio or videos to a grammar poster.
  • Have amazing scavenger hunts where students find pictures and learn the word from their smartphone.
  • Give background information on a reading to students who want to check it out.
  • Get students to create their own Blipps by choosing a word, character from a reading, proverb, or text and then using audio or video or images to express the meaning of their selection.

I suppose the trick here is to not let the technology get in the way of learning. It’d be way too tempting to make very elaborate Blips that distract from the educational aspect!

What do you think?

Single-Point Rubrics

I just put up a new classroom resource at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store: Single Point Rubric Templates. I really think this is the way to go for evaluating student writing, projects, and presentations. I discovered single-point rubrics earlier this year from Jen Gonzales’ article, Your Rubric is a Hot Mess. Here’s How to Fix it. I used to teach at an IEP that adopted traditional rubrics in an attempt to deskill teachers and introduce quality control measures. At first, they seemed awesome because you could grade so fast and back-up your comments with something “objective”.

But what I found was that students never read the rubrics because they were 6 columns x 5 rows and written in 8-point font. That’s a lot of text, especially for a non-native speaker. They really were a hot mess. Students tended to look at their grade and then put the rubric away.

Furthermore, the majority of students fall into the middle or upper middle range. So for students to find what they are supposed to do for an assignment, they should be looking at the 2nd or 3rd column. However, your eye is naturally drawn to the 1st column–the advanced/above standards column. However it can be discouraging to see that list of criteria. Alternatively, students may be drawn to the last column, the fail/unsatisfactory column. In that case, they tended to underestimate the effort required for the project.

Finally if you’ve ever had to write a giant rubric you know how much effort it is. It’s not easy to think of every level of achievement in every area of assessment. What exactly is 60% grammar as opposed to 50% or 70%?

What is a Single-Point Rubric?

A single point rubric has only one column of criteria. There you write your expectations for each aspect of the assignment. Students only see what you want them to do and at what level you expect them to use the skills and knowledge covered in class.

There is also room to leave personalized comments on how the student failed to meet your expectations and how the student exceeded your expectations.

Why Use a Single Point Rubric?

  • Traditional rubrics take a long time to write. For each area, you have to think of every possible variation of student activity. A single-point rubric requires you to write only one column of expectations.
  • Due to all that text, rubrics can take a surprisingly long time to grade as you try to figure out which box a student’s work fits into and debate whether in the case of this particular student, you shouldn’t bend the rules a bit because they did X so well even though they did Y so poorly. Single-point rubrics allow you to make targeted comments to specify the students’ problem areas and areas of high achievement.
  • Used incorrectly, rubrics can replace the kind of personalized feedback students often need. It’s tempting to just circle those boxes, add up the points, and move on to the next one. Single-point rubrics force you to write personal comments.
  • Students often don’t read all that text. Single-point rubrics focus on what the student is supposed to be doing. Students can see what your expectations are before the assignment. When they get their assignments back, they can see what did well or what they need to work on.
  • Such a clear focus on expectations builds student autonomy as students are more easily able to self-assess.
  • Some students try to play the rubric system by calculating their minimum acceptable grade and then figuring out the minimum they need to do to get their grade. Traditional rubrics can teach students how to squeak by.

If you’re intrigued, check out my Single-Point Rubric Templates at Teachers Pay Teachers and leave comments here or feedback there or even email me. Let me know what you think, how you’re using them in class, and what I can do to improve my rubrics

Druffel, Jen. “How I use the Single Point Rubric to Provide  Feedback” (2015) [Blog Post] My Life as a Teacher.

Fluckiger, Jarene, “Single Point Rubric: A Tool for Responsible Student Self-Assessment” (2010). Teacher Education Faculty Publications. Paper 5.

Gonzalez, Jennifer, “Your Rubric is a Hot Mess; Here’s How to Fix It.” (2014). [Blog Post] Brilliant or Insane.

Gonzalez, Jennifer, “Know Your Terms: Holistic, Analytic, and Single-Point Rubrics” (2014). [Blog Post] Cult of Pedagogy.

Free Getty Images

Getty Images’ embed feature lets you share images on blogs and social media. Embed photos and get attribution links already formatted for you.

Source: Find Images for Blogs & Social Media with Embed | Getty Images

I was not aware that Getty Images gives you access to their images, photographs and pictures if you want to use them non-commercially. I wouldn’t try to use them on my blog as I do sell some lessons here. The other limitation is that you have to embed them, so you can’t download them and use them.

However, you can download a small, comp image of any Getty Image if you want to spec an image and have your editor see what you have in mind. This might not work perfectly if you need the image to be quite large . The comp images are pretty small and stamped with a watermark. Obviously you are expected to buy the actual image for proper use.

Still it’s nice to have another resource of quality, free images for bloggers.

A Game for Learning New Words

A method for learning and retaining new vocabulary that you can use, or teach to your students. It has worked very well for me in moving quickly from exposure to a new word or chunk to using it well.


  • To learn new vocabulary
  • To increase learner autonomy by giving students skills to learn and retain vocabulary on their own
  • To help students notice differences between the meaning and use, denotation and connotation of new vocab
  • To give students in-depth exposure to new vocab including listening, writing, defining, and speaking


  • Dictionary or Internet access
  • Exposure to English through fellow students, films, music, TV and/or books, magazines, and newspapers

Some people ask me how I learned Russian so fast. First, of course I had great teachers and second, since I am immersed in a Russian (and Kazakh) speaking region, I don’t have much choice–either I learn Russian or I don’t eat! But there are some tricks to learning language that can be very helpful and I’ll share with you here a little game I play with myself. I’m sure I was influenced by someone somewhere, so if anyone knows where I got this idea, I’d love to know.

Incidentally, thinking of this as a game or teaching it to students as something fun can be more motivational than making it a strict methodology. Have you ever learned a new word, or found about a new celebrity, and then suddenly it seems like everyone in the whole world is saying this word or talking about this person? Or you’ve had a conversation about some topic and for the next few days you notice that everyone else is talking about that very same topic? This is a cool and eerie, but very natural, side-effect of noticing. If students can tap into that feeling of wonder and strangeness while they use this method, it will make it a lot more fun and interesting for them.

The Method

  1. Pick a word or expression that you hear or read a lot but don’t understand.
  2. Look it up in the dictionary (or ask a teacher or friend) to get an idea of what it means.
  3. Write this word or phrase down in your vocab journal (or you might put it on your daily to-do list or jot it down in the book you’re reading). Just make sure you write it so it gets locked in and so that you remember to listen for it.
  4. Now, make it your mission for a week to listen and read for this expression. Every time you hear it or see it written down, pay attention to the meaning (not only the dictionary meaning, but any nuances or connotations you can infer), the context, any words or phrases that seem to go with it. If possible, write down (to the best of your ability) the sentences you hear this word or phrase it so that you have some authentic examples to work with.

    Some questions you might ask yourself: Is it used in formal or informal contexts? Is it used regularly with other words and phrases i.e. does it seem to collocate with other words (the dictionary might help you with this, of course)? Is it always used in one form i.e. a verb that is only used in the past tense or mainly used with negative sentences? What about mood? Is it used in funny contexts? Serious contexts? When someone is angry? Does its meaning change in different contexts?

  5. After you feel comfortable, try using the word or expression. See how people react when you use it, pay attention if they repeat what you said back to you. Did they change something? Don’t be afraid to ask teachers and friends to correct you or help you either.
  6. After a week, you should feel comfortable with this new expression and ready to learn a new one.
    One word or phrase a week might seem like very slow going and there is no reason why you couldn’t have a few vocab words in mind in one week. However, this method aims to give you very deep understanding of a word or phrase and notice that it is best used with commonly encountered words. If you tried to learn, “For sooth” like this, you would probably be out of luck because we don’t use, “For sooth”, very often.

    As a quick example, I applied this method to try to learn the Russian expression, “Vryad li”. I had noticed people saying it, but I couldn’t get the meaning at all! So I looked it up in the dictionary (which took some doing since I wasn’t sure how to spell it). I discovered it meant, “unlikely” “probably not”. I also noticed from the dictionary definition that it was idiomatic, in other words no point parsing the grammar (which would be the verb ‘to lie’ and a questioning particle).

    Then I started to actively listen for it. I noticed that it was always used to begin sentences. Sometimes it was used on its own. I started to understand that it meant something like, “It is unlikely that…” I further noticed it was only used in the present tense. It seemed like expressing that idea in the past tense needed a different form.

    Then I began to test myself by using the expression and watching how people reacted. If they corrected me, I paid attention. If they looked confused I tried to figure out how I had used it wrong. I probably played this game for 5 days, and now I feel that I understand “вряд ли (vryd li)” very well. Vyrad li I can use it like a native speaker but I feel comfortable with it.

    Hope this method works well for you and your students. As always, comments are greatly appreciated.
    Also for a more hardcore way to memorize and retain vocabulary, check out Jason Renshaw’s Word Wise approach.

30 Goals: Learn to Play

This goal (part of the 30 Goals Movement) caught my eye as I have begun to finally play Minecraft. And while I am skeptical of a game teaching students English, I like the way David Dodgson at ELT Sandbox  (not ELTs and box as it looks like from the URL) frames this idea for an activity:

Learn to play – let your students teach you how to play a

  • Start by choosing a game – it could be a game for your phone/tablet, for your laptop, from a website, or any other device you have available to you, but make sure it is a popular game the students will know about (check the app store charts for example)
  • Tell your students you have started playing this game. You like it but you are finding it difficult.
  • If they know the game, invite them to explain the rules, give you some
    instructions and offer you some advice about how to play it.
  • Once they have taught the teacher, ask them to prepare a short guide to the game
    (this could take the form a short written set of instructions or
    a recording).

It seems like this could be a whole unit or a simple bonding exercise as a pre- or post-class discussion. Maybe run into a kid in the hall, “Hey is that that Angry Birds thing I’ve heard about? Tell me how it works…”

This seems like a really nice way to let the students shine by making them the expert, sharing (and validating) an interest of theirs, and also getting them to want to use language in order to discuss something they are passionate about.

And then depending on the game, you might be able to do a whole lot more. I mentioned Minecraft and a handful of ideas jumped out at me for using it in the classroom , such as:

  • Construction manuals Their complexity would depend on the level of the student. A manual could range from how to build a simple house to how to recreate the Taj Mahal. Or how to create a certain effect such as a gabled roof.
  • Crafting manuals Students can write out instructions on how to craft different things.
  • Map or picture/sculpture recreation Students can recreate a terrain to match a description. Students can even draw pictures or recreate sculptures from written directions.
  • Explain the missing steps Engineers in particular might enjoy explaining the over-simplifications in the crafting process. TNT is surely more than just sand and gunpowder. How do you really craft a pick axe from stone?
  • Treasure hunts: If students can share worlds, they can hide treasures in locations and write directions how to get there.
  • Books You can write books in Minecraft. Students could create sculptures, buildings, whole worlds and then write a history of it or diary entries from the creator. Then other students go on a tour.

I’m hardly the first to suggest Minecraft for Education. In fact, there will be an EVO on using Minecraft in the classroom next year, so feel free to check that out. I suppose keep an eye on the EVO homepage for when enrollment begins.