I have explained how I adapt a detective novel to use in class, my students playing the role of the detective and questioning me as I become their informants and suspects. I give them descriptive passages from the book to read in order to establish places, atmosphere and personalities.
In order to vary the activity and also to be sure they get important clues, I’ve invented « jigsaw conversations ». I choose a dialogue in the book between two characters and I type it up, eliminating « he said, she said » and everything else that is not dialogue. I use a different color of ink for each speaker, print it out, cut it into strips and mix-up the strips so that they are not in order.
In class I split the students into two groups and give each group the strips belonging to one speaker. They read the strips and try to put them into a possible order. At this point they can ask me if there are expressions they don’t understand. Then I ask the group representing the first speaker to read what they think is the opening statement. If this is not obvious, I’ll tell them what it is. The other group listens to the opening line and decides what they believe their character replied. If they are right, we go on to the next reply, if not I shake my head and they try again to find the right response.
The activity holds their interest, not only because they are trying to figure out the correct order of the conversation, but also because they are listening for clues to their investigation. When I play the role of the person being questioned, I often find it difficult to straddle the fine line between being sure that they get vital information that they need and emphasizing the clue so much that they realize it must be more important than it seems. Using the author’s dialog avoids these pitfalls.
It also helps familiarize students with frequent rejoinders. « Is that right ? » « That’s right ! » « Go on. » « What’s up ? » These are all expressions that we hear every day but rarely think to target in a lesson.
Once we have re-established the original conversation, we can use it for Reader’s Theater, then discuss the implications and what new clues are involved.
I’ll be using this technique often, since the students enjoy it and it gets them reading and rereading the text, checking their comprehension. Obviously, it’s not limited to detective stories, but can be used with any compelling dialog. I have small classes, so there is no need for additional groups, but large classes could be divided into groups of two or three. Half of the groups would get the strips for one character and the other half for the other character. When they have read for comprehension and put the strips in an approximate order, each group would find a group with the missing half of their conversation and work together to find the correct order. It might be a good activity to showcase if you are being inspected by someone who wants to see « communicative activities. » The real interest in the activity is getting the students to read and reread a text while listening intently to what their partners are saying, until the entire conversation is thoroughly familiar to them.