The Murder Mystery activity is another one credited to a workshop with the late Paul Ginnis some years back. The details can be found in his book.

This idea goes along with the lesson “Negative Communication” in the Love and Marriage chapter. However, the murder mystery is an excellent problem-solving and collaboration activity that can be applied to any content. I also like to use it for complicated studies.


How the murder mystery works

Like all good activities, the murder mystery is reliant on students solving a problem (…or a mystery). You pose the problem/question to students, and they work in small groups to try to solve it. The individual details needed to piece together in order to solve the mystery are on individual cards. Place these face down in the middle of the group and they’re distributed evenly to all group members.

The rules are rather simple:

  • Students can only read their own cards
  • They have to listen to what other students say – they can’t swap cards, place them on the table or read someone else’s
  • It is a race to be the first group to solve the mystery

In Paul’s workshop his catch phrase was “the devil’s in the detail.” And he was so right. Small things like laminating the cards, using colour card and adding a dramatic pause before the start of the activity all help to add a sense of importance to the mystery. Small details = big effects.


Who killed the marriage?

The student’s guide should help planning a murder mystery a little easier as the mystery to solve might simply be the lesson’s guiding question. In the case of the lesson I’m planning for “Negative Communication,” this is what I’ll do.

So in this lesson I’ll have students working in a group to answer this question:

  • How might negative communication patterns affect a marriage?

All the details on the cards they’ll be given (see below) come from page 298-299. There are some red herrings thrown in there as well, just to keep them actively thinking and sorting information.

If you want the answer, you can read this lesson on pg. 298-299 and should be able to see it, especially in the first couple of paragraphs on pg. 299.

Download the my murder mystery cards for this activity here!!

What I like about this activity is once you take the 30 minutes or so to plan it, you’ve got it on file for the following year/s. It’s also great for communication and getting inhibited and reserved students out of their shell. What I’ve also found as well is that competitive and out-going students who usually dominate classroom activities, suddenly find themselves having to gently coax and encourage their less-competitive and less-outgoing classmates to share and talk because they may hold some great clues to the mystery.

The activity works best when the answer is clear and objective (which it arguably isn’t in my example in this post). For this marriage murder mystery I’ll be telling students that they have to come to me as a group when they think they’ve got the answer and I’ll randomly ask one student from the group to explain it to me (and I’ll be choosing carefully from the group 🙂  ). If that one student can do it effectively, they “win.” They’ll all need to also write the answer in their workbooks.

The material in this lesson is golden for two topics in the Human Relationships option:

  1. The role of communication
  2. Why relationships may change or end

As a hook for this lesson, I like to show this video of Gottman explaining his “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

Planning Point: 

I used to teach all four of Gottman’s Four Horses of the Apocalypse, but now I only focus on stonewalling. This is because I think depth is better than breadth (here’s why) and also because for stonewalling we can go beyond just describing the effects of negative communication and can actually explain how this pattern of stonewalling (a.k.a wife demand/husband withdraw) can lead to marriage dissatisfaction and dissolution. This enables students to show greater understanding.


I’ve done the murder mystery many times in my lessons, but not for this particular activity yet. I’ll be sure to report back here after I try it in a couple of weeks.