Guess Who Online: Who’s the Thief?

By Pu-mei Leng:

Once we are online, I realize the input activities need to be shortened and students will need to speak more simply because they need to talk. When Lu laoshi showed me her new version of the old mafia game, I was excited. She said that we can simply use private chat to assign the roles to students. I was eager to test it out with my students.

To play a game is a privilege in my class. I do not play very often and they will have to listen to the story carefully.  And I usually play with my bigger classes. It has been one of AP class’s favorite games. Most of them are seniors and they are not in high spirits at this time. I want them to have some fun.

What turned out to be a surprise was my least engaged class. I simplified the game as much as I could. I eliminated the doctor and the police and only keep the killer. As I was typing the vocabulary since they have never played the game, I changed the killer to the thief which is a word they have heard and I decided to assign two thieves.  I did not even go over the rules but simply told them that we will play a simplified and modified Mafia and I will assign the thieves via private chat. This way I also eliminated the process of whom they will kill.

This was the story I narrated: There is a thief who is very hungry since he did not have money to buy food before the governor’s order of staying at home was announced.  He decides the hospital will have food for their patients. He went to the hospital intends to steal some food. But instead, he saw some masks there and thought if he steals masks he will be able to sell them for extra money and buys more food. Everyone is angry (These are the words we have been using all the time since the outbreak in China).

Who is the thief?

They unmute themselves one at a time to speak. They will have to tell who the suspect is and why they think the accused is a suspect. I allow two English words as a rule. Then, for people who really cannot fully express themselves, I let them speak in English. It really does not matter because I repeated and confirmed their reasoning. And some others agreed or disagreed. They ended up have received a lot more input than I thought. They need to convince each other and decide to put one in jail (could be the wrong one). Then, the story continues…the hospital is still missing the masks, is there another thief or the one in the jail is a wrong one? I did not reveal the answer until the last. We played for 35 minutes. Everyone was engaged.

I kept the same storyline for the AP class but added three characters in Lu laoshi’s game. I add a kind doctor, a smart detective and a stupid policeman. I was not clear about the rule because no one was killed and was saved. What happened was other than the thief, the doctor, the police and the detective were identified. Three of them never agreed on anyone.  As the accusation goes on, it obvious that they were suspects as well. Sentences such as “the police pretended to be stupid, he is the thief” would come out. I am teaching idiom expression to my seniors and I happily supplied the expression of监守自盗. We did not finish the game, only sent the wrong person to the jail and let out several times (In Zoom, the student used a jail scene to be a virtual background). The game turns out to be a rich language of accusation and arguing, sometimes with English, and I have provided with tons of input.

Haiyun’s comment:

As I was listening to Pu-mei’s class recording, I was inspired by her ability to paraphrase students’ expression in a simply, easy and comprehensible way.  When a student got stuck either with his/her idea or language, Pu-mei paraphrased what they were trying to say, in doing so, she provided another round of compelling and comprehensible input.

For the first time, we are releasing Leng laoshi’s teaching audio.  We hope it can benefit Chinese teachers who strive to continue to use comprehensible input and storytelling online.

In a separate post, I’ll share my experience of using Pu-mei’s storyline with my Novice 1 class in a storytelling format.

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