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Detectives in the English Classroom

July 24, 2018 by cymaster

Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Jules Maigret, Phillip Marlowe and Miss Marple are probably the most famous classic detectives we know from fiction. Our students may be familiar with some of them, and will definitely have heard the name Sherlock Holmes and quite possibly know his catchphrase, 'Elementary, my dear Watson'. How can these intriguing and often eccentric characters assist you in teaching English to teenage students? Are there any contemporary detectives, closer to your students in age and style, who can be even more influential in your classroom? What language and thinking skills can they help improve while we are reading stories about them?

There are numerous original stories with young detectives who go on adventures to help someone in their community, help the environment or just investigate a mysterious event. By keeping your students hooked on the stories they are reading, you can help them in three important areas: language skills, basic thinking skills, higher creative and critical thinking skills. Let's consider the basic skills first. Among them we can list recongnising problems, finding relevant information, clarifying language, asking relevant information, differentiating between fact and opinions, memorisation, plot recollection. If you think of any of the detective stories you have read, you will immediately find scenes which demonstrate these functional thinking skills. When your students 'think along' with the fictional detectives they also put these skills into action. As they try to look a bit ahead by predicting what comes next or by examining and evaluating a situation, they get closer to practising higher order thinking and reasoning skills. Detective stories are not only entertaining to read, they also function as rich language resources.

Let's meet some characters from original stories written for language learners.

David and the Great Detective

Meet David and the Great Detective

David and the Great Detective, written by Martyn Hobbs, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini Level 1 (CEF A1) graphic stories with double cartoon pages.

David dreams of becoming a great detective like David Delgado, the hero of his stories. When thieves take Jack’s bike, David decides to help him find it. Can David find it and be a great detective like David Delgado?

Double pages from David and the Great Detective by Martyn Hobbs. © Helbling Languages


Meet Dan Parks, and his dog Dylan

Dan and the Village Fête, written by Richard MacAndrew, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola Level 1 (CEF A1) graded reader

It’s the day of the Steeple Compton village fête and everyone is happy. Everyone except Sue Barrington, the new girl in town. Sue’s friend Dan is worried. Dan finds out that someone called Nemesis is bullying Sue and he decides to help. Who can Nemesis be? And why does he or she want to hurt Sue? Only Dan the detective and his dog Dylan can find out.

Helbling Readers Red Series Fiction Dan and the Village Fête

Dan and the Missing Dogs, by Richard MacAndrew, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola Level 2 (CEF A1) graded reader

When Mrs Jackson’s pet dog Basil goes missing, Dan Parks realizes immediately that something strange is going on. Then when he sees thieves taking his best friend Sue’s dog, Charlie he knows  that there is definitely a mystery to be solved. Who is taking the dogs and can Dan and Dylan save them before it is too late?

Helbling Readers Red Series Fiction Dan and the Missing Dogs

Meet Don and Mike, who protect the environment

Operation Osprey, written by David A. Hill, illustrated by Giovanni Da Re Level 4 (CEF A2-B1) graded reader

Don and Mike are best friends. They both live in the sleepy town of Saltley and they both love birdwatching. Their lives suddenly become exciting when Mike spots a pair of osprey at a nearby lake. The boys decide to protect the birds so that they can make a nest. But when Mr Roberts takes an interest in the birds the boys become suspicious.

Operation Osprey

Meet Caterina, who fights for ethical fashion, and her friends, who help her

Mystery at the Mill, written by Elspeth Rawstron, illustrated by Nick Tankard Level 5 (CEF B1) graded reader

When Caterina finds her great-great grandmother’s diary in the attic she reads about her difficult life as a child worker in the local mill. Caterina starts thinking and soon she has started a campaign against a local boutique that sells cheap fashionable clothes. However the shop belongs to Jake’s Uncle Sanjit. Can Caterina convince Sanjit to sell ethically made clothes? And are Sanjit’s suppliers what they seem?


Meet Josh, Trish and Suzi, the college detectives

The Right Thing, by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor, illustrated by Arianna Vairo Level 5 (CEF B1) graded reader

When Josh meets Trish and Suzi at their first day of college in London, little do they know that they will soon be swept up into a mystery involving the British and Yolandan governments. Luckily for them, Morrow, a British Security Service agent, takes them under his wing. But by doing so he has to decide what is the right thing to do. What will Morrow’s decision mean for him? Only Control can decide.


Meet Molly, the teenage girl detective

The Albatross, written by Scott Lauder & Walter McGregor, illustrated by Francesca Protopapa Level 5 (CEF B1) graded reader

Levy, an old Greek sailor, takes on his last job and discovers that the cargo on board is not what he expected. Molly, an American teenager finds a body on the beach when she’s walking her dog. What happens when Levy tells the captain? Why does the body disappear? And how are Levy and Molly connected?


Meet Jake, the detective on holiday

Danger in the Sun, written by Antoinette Moses, illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni Level 5 (CEF B1) graded reader

Jake hasn’t seen his archaeologist father for five years, but now he is going to spend his summer holiday with him in Greece. Jake arrives in Athens airport, but his father is nowhere to be seen. When the local police show little interest in the case Jake decides to investigate his father’s disappearance himself.

Danger in the Sun

Creative writing in class

If you would like to do some creative writing in class, you can trythe following activity from the resource book Writing Stories written by Andrew Wright and David A. Hill.

Activity 2.8, page 46: Dead Man's Pocket


Sample page from Writing Stories by Andrew Wright and David A. Hill. © Helbling Languages



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