Crime & Justice

This project is designed for more advanced students, both in terms of language skills and in terms of age/maturity. It also works best when you do the same project (but with different results) with multiple classes so that they can exchange what they’ve done so far and at later stages the material is new to the students.

There’s been a robbery, and justice must be served. Your classes will be tasked with deciding the circumstances of the crime, investigating it, and conducting a mock trial.

Crime & Justice Vocabulary

Before you begin the project, it’s a good idea to introduce and/or review relevant vocabulary. The words that your classes will use will depend on the details they come up with, so you might have to add more words along the way, but here’s a good starting place:

  • robbery
  • theft
  • stolen
  • breaking & entering
  • criminal
  • security
  • alibi
  • suspect
  • investigation
  • victim
  • witness
  • evidence
  • arrest
  • jail
  • court
  • trial
  • judge
  • lawyers
  • innocent
  • guilty
  • verdict
By the way, a lot of crime-related verbs and adjectives are PASSIVE, so it might be a good idea to go over Passive Voice and Passive Adjectives around this time. In fact, one of our handouts even covers some of those passive crime-and-punishment words.

Also, cover words with the same root that can be applied in different ways. For example, what’s the difference between ‘rob’, robber’, and ‘robbery’?

Introducing the Project

Once the students have gotten a handle on the vocabulary, talk to them about the justice system. I’m American, and the way this project is laid out reflects the American justice system (although you can modify it, if you so choose). How is the justice system different from what the students are used to?

Next, tell the students that they’ll walk through a fictional criminal case. There will be three stages of it: the Crime, the Investigation, and the Trial. Students will have to make decisions along the way, and the entire path – from the crime until the very end – will depend on the choices they’ve made.

The project is most effective when done with 3 or more classes, as the classes will switch cases along the way (that said, you could still do this with a single class). For this outline, we’ll follow the path of an individual case, rather than sticking with the same class.

The Crime

For the first phase, your students will construct an imaginary theft. There are a lot of details to consider here, so take your time. Maybe revisit some of these for ten minutes every week, allowing your students to come up with their own ideas in the meantime.

Start with the basics: what was stolen and from whom/where? You could do classics like a valuable painting from a museum, something silly like Brad Pitt’s favorite pencil, something more relatable like five iPhones from a nearby store, or anything in between.

If you’re rotating the cases among multiple classes, you can decide who the real their was – or not, and leave it a mystery for everyone! Classes shouldn’t know the truth of the cases their investigating or trying, so if the same class is doing all three phases, they shouldn’t decide the real thief here.

Whether you know the real thief or not, there should be more than one person who could’ve done the crime. I’d recommend 3-5 suspects. For anyone who might have been present at the time of the theft, you’ll have to consider the following:

  • If we know they were there, why do they claim they were there? What do they claim they were doing?
  • If they might not have been there, where do they claim they were instead? What is their supposed alibi?
  • What reason might they have for stealing it?
  • How easy would it have been for them to steal it?
  • Why would they be suspected of the crime? Did the shopkeeper think they were acting shifty? Did they leave something behind (evidence) that proves they were there? Did a security camera catch them in the wrong place at the wrong time?


Other than the suspects, you might have some witnesses, depending on where and when the crime took place. Where was each witness, and what were they doing there? What did each witness see or hear? Ideally, some of them saw/heard some element of the crime, but no more than one – if any at all – saw the whole thing and truly know what happened. There should also be things seen/heard that don’t actually have anything to do with the crime, although they could seem like they might, if someone doesn’t know the real story.

Remember that some people can be both witnesses and suspects.

When you’ve finished with the persons-of-interest, make sure you have plenty of apparent evidence. Remember that evidence is not the same as proof; some of it may be circumstantial. Make a list of all the pieces of evidence.

  • What is it?
  • Where does it belong? Who does it belong to?
  • Why is it suspicious?
  • Is it hidden?
  • What does it suggest (whether it’s true or not)?


Have fun coming up with all these details, and again, take as much time as your class needs. At the end, make a notecard with the known details for each person-of-interest and for each piece of evidence. Also write down the facts of the case (like what was stolen, from whom or where, at what time, etc.) on a piece of paper.

The Investigation

The next class should receive the facts of the case, the evidence cards, and the persons-of-interest (POI) cards from the previous class. No one except the teacher should see all the cards. Read out the facts of the case to class, then hand out each POI card to one student (or a pair of students to involve more people). People who have the card will act as that person. Make sure that no one shows their card to anyone else. Some or all of the people who didn’t receive a card are the detectives.

It’s the detectives’ job to ask questions and come to a conclusion. This would be a good time to cover or revisit QUESTION FORMS. Detectives should decide both what they’re going to ask the POIs and how they’re going to ask it.


While the detectives are getting ready, the POIs can work on their characters. What kind of personality do they have? (Maybe review some personality vocabulary here.) Also, the cards say what the POIs know and what they believe, but they may choose to speculate. If they witnessed something, maybe they think they know who the thief is (and they may be right, or they may be wrong). Witnesses are free to express whatever they think. Also, both witnesses and suspects are free to lie; doing so may give them an advantage, but if they are caught in the lie, they might be accused of the crime.

By the way, one of the suspect cards might reveal that they are the real thief. If so, that POI shouldn’t tell anyone, and they pretend otherwise.

When everyone’s ready, have the detectives ask the POIs questions and take notes. Before doing so, students should be familiar with NARRATIVE TENSES like past simple, past progressive, and past perfect. In expressing what they heard, witnesses might need to make use of REPORTED SPEECH. Meanwhile, the detectives should try to decide who the suspects are, then determine their means, motive, and opportunity.

Before, after, or amid the interviews, they may also ‘inspect the scene’. To inspect the scene, detectives simply tell the teacher what they’re looking at or where they’re looking, and the teacher can then reveal the evidence cards. Only reveal hidden evidence when a detective looks in a correct or specific place.

Once the detectives are finished with their interviews and gathering evidence, it’s time to develop conclusions. Go through EXPRESSIONS OF SPECULATION. Next, they should decide among themselves who the guilty POI probably is. This is a good time to discuss EXPRESSING OPINIONS, as well as AGREEING AND DISAGREEING.

Finally, the detectives should arrest a suspect.

The Trial

The case can stay with the same class, or it can be passed on to a third class. If the latter, the investigating class needs to pass on all the relevant information: added to the facts-of-the-case sheet should be the name of the person who was arrested and why; key evidence (whether it’s a testimony or physical evidence) should be handed over as well.

Among your students, 2-3 should be the prosecuting team, 2-3 should be the defense attorneys, one can be the bailiff (but that’s less important), and the rest will be members of the jury. The teacher should be the judge.

Both lawyer teams need to be given plenty of time to prepare their case. The prosecutors need to figure out how to convince the jury that the suspect is guilty. In what order should they present the evidence? What questions should they ask witnesses on the stand? The way they plan and deliver their argument would not be unlike preparing an essay. The defense attorneys should do the same to convince the jury that the suspect is innocent.

You can work on it some in class, but the details might need to be planned as homework. If lawyers have questions, they should first ask the detectives. It’s up to the teacher whether they could also ask the witnesses.

Once both teams of lawyers are ready, begin the trial. You can find resources online (like this one) that explain how to conduct a mock trial. The bailiff can bring in witnesses from the other class for the witness examinations. After the lawyers have presented their cases, the jury members get to deliberate (again using expressions of AGREEING AND DISAGREEING, and perhaps some SPECULATION), then deliver their verdict.


If you choose, the project ends their. Well done!

If the jury decided the suspect was innocent, you have the option of returning to phase two, and after the detectives have arrested another suspect, repeating phase three.

If the first class knew who the real thief was, they may reveal it to the other classes (or they may choose to keep it a secret).

You might want to give a small reward to the detective(s) that solved the case and/or to the winning lawyers. If so, let them know ahead of time to boost their motivation.

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