a project on Indirect Questions
For this project, some students will craft fictional crimes and the others will try to solve them as investigators, using Direct and Indirect Questions to question witnesses and interrogate suspects. The Indirect Questions will be for polite requests and inquiries. There’s also an optional portion of this project for any student who are absent on the main day of the project, in which Reported Questions will be used.
Craft the Crime
Set aside 6 students who will first come up with the details of a crime, then act as witnesses to that crime. I recommend theft as it’s easily dramaticized and can be ‘fun’ without getting too dark and uncomfortable. Your group of six should decide the following details:
- What was stolen?
- Where/whom was it stolen from?
- When was it stolen?
- Who committed the crime?
- Why did the thief steal it?
- What tools did they use?
Write down each question and answer on two notecards (so that you have twelve notecards total – six unique cards doubled). Then each member of that group takes two cards (make sure none of them have two identical cards). They are now each witnesses with two pieces of information.
Also, write down these questions on the board for all to see.
Prep the Witnesses
On a different set of notecards (perhaps a different color from the previous set), write “Flustered” on two, “Nervous” on two, “Rebellious” on one, and “Scared” on one (for a total of six cards). These will be the characteristics of the witnesses. Hand each of these cards to one of the witnesses.
The two Flustered witnesses will only reveal an answer if the question is asked as a Direct Question (and if it’s one of the two answers they know).
The two Nervous witnesses will only reveal an answer if the question is asked as an Indirect Question (and if it’s one of the two answers they know).
The Rebellious witness will only reveal an answer if the question is asked as an Imperative (and if it’s one of the two answers they know).*
The Scared witness will only reveal an answer if the question is asked first as a Direct Question or as an Imperative, then again as an Indirect Question (and if it’s one of the two answers they know).
Write these characteristics on the board for all two see (perhaps in abbreviated form, such as “Flustered – Direct Questions”).
* Imperatives (commands) are structured like Indirect Questions, but not polite. For example: “Tell me who stole the diamonds!”
Instruct the witnesses not to reveal their cards to any of the investigators, then spread out the witnesses in chairs around the room.
Conduct the Investigation
The rest of the students should now get into pairs to investigate the crime. They know in general what the crime was (“It’s a theft.”), and who the six witnesses are, but nothing else. They don’t know which cards the witnesses have, including which characteristics each witness has (or even how many of each there are).
Each pair of investigators should then decide which of them is the good cop and which is the bad cop. The bad cop can only use Direct Questions and Imperatives, while the good cop can only use Indirect Questions. They need to find out the information you wrote on the board, but they’re free to reword the questions however they like (assuming it fits their role and that the question is in a correct structure).
Each round, each pair of investigators will approach one of the witnesses and as one question. If they ask in the right way for that witness and if it’s an answer the witness knows, the witness has to answer clearly and correctly. If not, the witness can give a vague answer, say “I don’t know”, just shrug, etc. (the witnesses can improvise here, but not intentionally mislead the investigators).
If the investigators did not get the answer they were looking for, it may because they asked the wrong question to the wrong witness, or it may because they asked the question in the wrong way. For the next round, investigators can choose to try again with that witness or move to another witness. When the investigators get a correct answer, they should make a note of it (but not tell the other pairs of investigators). The first investigative pair to get all six correct answers wins.
The point of going in rounds is to ensure the investigators all move at the same pace; being first isn’t about speed, but about the fewest number of questions asked. If there are more pairs of investigators than there are witnesses, break the investigators into two groups and have them alternate rounds.
As soon as a pair of investigators believe they have all six answers, they should raise their hands, then tell you discretely. If they are correct, they get the accommodations, and the investigation is over.
Bonus for the Absent
If anyone was absent the main day of this project, they can then act as private investigators and ask the witnesses about the previous investigation. Their questions should prompt the witnesses to use Reported Speech. For example:
“What did [name of investigator] ask you yesterday?”
“What did you tell the investigators about the location?”
Witnesses should ignore their previous characteristics and always answer clearly and correctly. If the private investigator can learn all six pieces of information in fewer questions than the police investigators asked the previous day, the private investigator wins!
For more on Indirect Questions, check out our Questions Series or our Indirect Speech Series. Indirect Questions include Polite Requests and Formal Inquiries. They begin with an introductory phrase, finish with the question content, and have a crux in the middle. Also, the question word order resembles declarative sentences. Watch the video to see the details. You can even go beyond the video with printouts, slideshows, and grammar guides, all designed to help teachers better reach their students!