Mini Mysteries: A vocabulary game

Object: To propose solutions to a mystery using targeted vocabulary.

Levels: Low intermediate to advanced

This activity can be done with a set of 10-20 words. The idea is for each mystery to incorporate 2-3 key words, and ideally no words are duplicated.  As students will be working in pairs or small groups, enough mini mysteries are needed for each group.

I will illustrate the activity with the 10 words from Chapter 10 from Vocabulary Power 2: Practicing Essential Words. [affect, crush, declare, export, instant, precious, publish, scatter, sever, wound]

STEP 1 – Before class, the teacher must prepare mini mysteries. Each story must include the same number of key words. Models:

  • (1)  The storm crushed the roof of the house, but the family was not wounded. How is that possible?
  • (2) The parents walked through the front door, and in an instant, the children scattered. Why didn’t the children stay and greet their parents?
  • (3) The writer never published a story, but many people know her work and view it as precious. How is that possible?
  • (4) The loss of sea ice is severe, but it hasn’t affected all polar bears. Why?

 STEP 2 – In class, ask students to work in pairs or small groups of three. Distribute copies of the mini mysteries, one to each small group. Ask them to read their mystery together as a group and make certain all members understand the situation.

STEP 3 – Each group must try to solve the mystery. Their ideas must be recorded. Key words must be used in their explanation/ proposal. Successful use of a key word earns the group one point.

SUGGESTIONS: If some key words were not used in the mini mysteries, note them on the board and award bonus points to a group that is able to incorporate them in their written explanation. Full points can be awarded for using the words targeted in the mystery and any bonus word listed on the board. Half points could be awarded if other words from the unit are used.


  • (1) The family wasn’t wounded because they weren’t in the house. The storm crushed the roof after the family had gone somewhere else to be safe. The police or firefighters probably declared an emergency, so all the people in town could leave their homes before the storm came.

= 3 points

  • (2) The children scattered in an instant because they did something wrong. They might want to hide something from their parents, like a broken stereo or window.

= 2 points

  • (3) The work was discovered and published after the writer died. That’s how the writer got popular. Because the writer is dead now, she can’t write more, so the things she wrote in the past are precious.

= 2 points

  • (4) The loss of sea ice is severe only for polar bears in the wild. Some polar bears are in zoos, so they aren’t affected, but they are still precious because there are so few polar bears in the world.

= 2.5 points

STEP 4 – Have students present their mystery and their solution to the class. Encourage comments, corrections, and other possible solutions.

SUGGESTION: Challenge students to write their own mini mystery with 2-3 key words from the same unit. They may turn in written work or share their stories orally at the next lesson.


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