Murder Of A Superhero. Weapon? An Item Of Office Equipment

hole punch confetti'Spiderman's dead.' I said, stifling a giggle.

My Business English students looked up from their dryly written Email English books of highly useful exercises and very necessary practice.

The lesson was on formal and informal language in emails.

I had tried to make it interesting, I promise, getting them to take turns figuring out which phrase on the right-hand side matched the phrase on the left but now they were individually comparing two grey boxes, side-by-side, and their faces were bored.

'They found him outside by the fountain." I sounded serious.

MJ looked up at me. It's a Pre-intermediate class so she figured she'd misunderstood and looked back down to finish up matching the words of Latin origin with the shorter words in the other box.

We went through their answers.

"Provide = give" "Verify= check or prove." They said.

"Good job." I acknowledged, while correcting the difference between ask and ask for vs request and enquire.

"Spiderman died this morning." I tried again. What if it doesn't work, what if they don't get it? Should I give instructions?

Four faces stared blankly.

"Do you know how he died?" I asked.

spidermanThey looked at me, just the tiny-weeny-bittiest afraid that their English teacher was nuts.

I sighed as if I was making sense.

"There was something next to him, I heard one policeman say to another, when I arrived for class, something about an item of office equipment?"

No answer. Just bemused looks exchanging between them.

"Didn't the receptionist send an email to everyone this morning?"

"No" replied MS but there was a 'does-this-have-something-to-do with-emails' look in her eye.

It took the strength of angels for me not to laugh.

I gave up and started chuckling. "It's not true, it's a story and we're going to make it together."

MJ smiled.

"Do you know what the item was? It was something from the office, right?"

"Yes," her grin spread "it was a punch holer."

"A hole punch."

"What's a hole punch?" W asked and MJ indicated with her hands the action of piece of paper being stamped.

V wasn't having any of this nonsense. "A hole punch, how could a hole punch kill Spiderman? He's a Superhero."

hole punchMJ responded with conviction "It went flying out the window, because my colleague threw it out. He was angry because he was late to work, a suicider lay on the train tracks and he got to work late and missed an important date. It broke the window."

She paused, a little flash of both surprise and pride on her face. That was a lot of speaking in English all in one go.

"Appointment or meeting." I corrected. "Meeting" MJ nodded.

MS joined in the fun. "It happened at 10 o'clock this morning."

W "I don't think this could happen. It is not true. He..."

V "No, it must be something else, not a hole punch. Could it be that Spiderman was sick?"

MJ "It was the punch-holder, er, the hole punch. I saw it. I saw it happen. It was very bad. He was climbing the window and then it hit him in the face and..."

And on and on the story continued unfolding with all of us laughing so hard our stomachs hurt.

Once all the facts and details were ironed out, I then told them there were four emails that needed writing.

MJ, who had very clearly seen the whole thing happen, had to write an email to the police chief (formal language).

V had to write to the Job Council to find out if they could send a replacement Superhero (formal language).

I got MS to scribble a note to her best friend to pass on the delicious gossip and told W that he was actually, secretly, a Superhero himself and that he should write the community of Superheroes to let them know that one of their own was gone (informal language). As his level is the highest in the class I also asked him to reuse expressions from our last lesson.

emailThey also took turns answering each others emails, sparking another round of laughter: V's was rather droll, demanding an immediate start of the new Superhero who should also have a protective mask and our lesson ended with W's, who'd managed to bring up the possibility of a conspiracy between the bank and the bad guys.

I don't think it'll be a lesson they'll forget soon.

I know I won't. Thanks, Ken.


Useful information related to this posting:

This activity is an adaptation from Ken Wilson's:
Resource Books for Teachers: Drama and Improvisation
(Amazon UK, US, DE)

  • Do you think this lesson would work well with your students? In what other ways could we use it - to teach what structures or skills?
  • The original version of this activity calls for a Superhero, a location and an item of kitchen equipment and I can't wait to try it out on my 'dogme' group of over age 60s. What other adaptations would you like to suggest?
  • What do you think, in general, of adding drama to Business English lessons? Would you like to give some tips on what you do by either commenting below or, maybe, write a guest-piece for this blog on this topic?

6 Responses to “Murder Of A Superhero. Weapon? An Item Of Office Equipment”

  • ShellTerrell says:
    June 24, 2009

    Hello Karenne!
    I loved your lesson! I do a lot of role play in my lessons. Often the students are in pairs and have a mission to accomplish, such as creating an ad campaign or presentation. Sometimes, the whole class participates in a role play. I give the situation and allow the students to pick different roles, such as an angry consumer, a business partner, a potential client, and so forth. The student is responsible for creating the dialogue and answering questions about their character's attitudes, reactions, and beliefs towards the situation. We have the a lot of fun in the class. I believe the students remember the idioms and vocabulary better with these approaches. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anne says:
    June 25, 2009

    Dear Karenne,
    I really like the sheer wackiness of this :) In your post you described the process of getting your students on board, and that's exactly the challenging bit, isn't it, to stick to your outrageous scenario and not give in to the urge to give it away, trusting them to figure the game out. Providing extra "training wheels" would just have gotten in the way of your student-detective's impressive soliloquy. Will take your wacky tack and see what develops. Great stuff. Thanks for writing it up!

    June 25, 2009

    Hi ya, Anne

    Yup. When they were exchanging looks between each other I almost caved.

    Felt v. foolish and quite insecure but I think that's what made it all the more fun - especially when they got it and joined in the madness.

    Honestly haven't ever seen students so enthusiastically and diligently diving into dictionary to write up emails and extend the story we'd been discussing. Hilarious!

    Hey ya, Shelly

    Thanks so much - I don't actually do enough role play in my BE classes - am so glad Ken Wilson's new book inspired this idea. When I taught general English, role plays were always part of the fun.

    I love your real play suggestions too, thanks for sharing them.


  • Janet Bianchini says:
    June 25, 2009

    Fantastic lesson! You had the courage to see it through and it worked fabulously. The students will always remember it as a very inspiring lesson. I've made a note to give this idea a go in one of my classes soon. Thanks!

    Ps I loved the very attention-grabbing heading to your post.

    June 27, 2009

    Thanks Janet,
    Sheer luck on the title - was giggling through the whole posting.

    Glad you enjoyed it and do let me know how it works out for you too!

  • Alex Case says:
    June 28, 2009

    Great idea, and like the way you got some office vocab etc into the story. Reminded me a little of my Business Alibi Game lesson ( , but yours has that great "blank incomprehension and feeling that they can't do it turns to comprehension and then success" which all great lessons should have


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