ESL Murder Mystery Game: Mystery at Mr. Grim’s Mansion

Strengths: Entertaining, speaking practice

ESL Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Class Time: 1-2 hours

Update (09/2023): I've updated the character cards and moved this product to Teachers Pay Teachers. Please check it out there. Thanks for your support! - Matthew

Foreword: Planning a murder mystery for your ESL class takes time. Since each student will have a specific role, there is no murder mystery game you can download and prepare 5 minutes before class begins. You'll need to do some serious preparation.

I have done two murder mystery activities with my advanced Junior High ESL class. This was the first one, which I highly recommend:

I found it on OneStopEnglish, which requires a membership (you may be able to find it elsewhere). The plot was slightly complex, but my students were able to figure most of it out.

My Mystery: "Mystery at Mr. Grim's Mansion"

Materials for class: Mystery at Mr. Grim's Mansion

The mystery I designed is more complicated and requires more preparation. Honestly, I would do the above one first if you haven't already. I only created this because I could not find any other activities online. It's pretty complicated - maybe too complicated. But if you want to look at my mystery for inspiration, it is below.

Mystery Basic Idea

The twist in this story is that it is not a murder mystery; rather, it is just a mystery. The students are told that Mr. Grim has died, and they must figure out how he died. Naturally, they assume he has been killed (later, in the end, they discover that he had a heart attack after coming across a lost cobra in his house).

The first part of the activity has them question each other in order to get background character information, possible weapons, and motives. The second part requires students to ask each other what rooms they were in (a map is provided) before and after the murder.

The story contains elements of the game Clue (or Cluedo).

Mystery Execution:

1) Assign Character Roles

Distribute character cards + props (wigs, hats, etc.) in the hall. Here are the mystery character cards (11 possible roles):

Name: Wally
1) You are a good friend of Mr. Grim's son, Todd Grim. You often travel together. You are at the mansion because you want to invite Mr. Grim's son to go hunting with you next month in Africa.
2) Items: a cobra— you brought it to give to Todd as a present. The snake has no poison. You also have your hunting knife in your bag.
8:00 pm: you lost the snake, so you were looking for the snake in the billiard room
8:30 pm: you found your snake in the library.
Name: Dr. Watkins
1) You are Mr. Grim's doctor. You came to the party because are very worried about his health. Mr. Grim has a very bad heart. You were worried that he might have a heart attack.
2) Items: You have medicine in your bag.
8:00 pm: [take 8:00 room card]
8:30 pm: [take 8:30 room card]
Name: Morgan Franklin
1) You are Mr. Grim's business partner. Secretly, you hate him. You wish he were dead so you could control the company.
2) Items: your computer and knife for opening envelopes.
8:00 pm: you were still at work. You didn't arrive at the party until 8:30 pm.
8:30 pm: [take 8:30 room card]
Name: Randy
1) You are Mr. Grim's gardener. You are at the mansion because you work and live there. You hate Mr. Grim because he's cheap. He's been paying you the same amount of money since 1960.
2) Items: a chainsaw, bottle of vodka
8:00 pm: [take 8:00 room card]
8:30 pm: [take 8:30 room card]
Name: Todd Grim
1) You are Mr. Grim's son. You are a traveler. You have traveled the world. You recently just came back from a trip to Japan. You are at the mansion because you live there. Your friend named Wally is also visiting the mansion.
2) Items: wasabi, samurai sword
8:00 pm: [take 8:00 room card]
8:30 pm: [take 8:30 room card]
Name: Mercedes Grim
1) You are Mr. Grim's 17-year-old daughter. You are rich. You hate your dad because he doesn't let you do what you want to do. You wanted to go to Paris this summer, but he told you that you had to stay home and study.
2) Items: mirror, lipstick, Justin Beiber CD
8:00 pm: [take 8:00 room card]
8:30 pm: [take 8:30 room card]
Name: Takeshi Fujimoto
1) You are Mr. and Mrs. Grim's personal fitness trainer. You are in very good shape. You have a black belt in karate. You came to the mansion because Mrs. Grim's wife (Wanda) invited you. Secretly, you have been in a romantic relationship with Wanda for a year, but Mr. Grim doesn't know.
2) Items: energy drink, jump rope, comic book
8:00 pm: [take 8:00 room card]
8:30 pm: in the basement (with Wanda)
Name: Wanda Grim
1) You are Mr. Grim's wife. You are rich, but you are not happy with Mr. Grim. He's boring, and you're bored. Secretly, you are in a romantic relationship with your fitness trainer, Takeshi Fujimoto. You like the excitement of having a secret lover.
2) Items: mobile phone, a book about yoga
8:00 pm: [take 8:00 room card]
8:30 pm: in the basement (with Takeshi)
Name: Crabby Kuramoto
1) You are Mr. Grim's neighbour. You have been living beside the Grim family for 60 years. You hate them, especially the daughter who always plays loud music at night. You wish they would leave the town so you could live peacefully.
2) Items: peanuts, tissues, small carrot
8:00 pm: [take 8:00 room card]
8:30 pm: [take 8:30 room card]
Name: Badger
1) You weren’t invited to the party, but you heard music so you walked in off the street. You have heard about how rich Mr. Grim is. You are amazed at all the expensive stuff in his house! You don’t have much money. You are starting to wonder if Mr. Grim would notice if some of his items went missing….
2) Items: chicken wing, dead fly
8:00 pm: in the kitchen, looking at the wine collection
8:30 pm: [take 8:30 room card]
Name: Kelly Kikukoko
1) You have been Mr. Grim’s longtime friend since high school. You've been a quite worried recently about some financial troubles (you lost all your money!). Tonight, you were planning to discuss your money problems with Mr. Grim. Maybe he might have a job available for you?
2) Items: old photograph (from the high school days), a letter from your bank
8:00 pm: [take 8:00 room card]
8:30 pm: [take 8:30 room card]

The necessary characters are Wally (the cobra-bringer), Dr. Watkins (the doctor who tells of Mr. Grim's heart condition), and Todd Grim (the son who was meant to receive the cobra). The rest are optional. Some pairs (e.g. the lovers Wanda Grim and Takeshi Fujimoto) go together.

2) Introduce the setting:

Announce: “You were invited to stay at Mr. Grim's large mansion for the weekend. Many other guests were invited too.

It is now Saturday at 9 pm. Suddenly, the butler, Barton, calls all of you to the living room.”

3) Announcement
(Put on your fake mustache.) "I am the butler. Mr. Grim is dead. I don't know how he died. But I think one of you killed him!
No one is leaving here until we find out who it was! You are all suspects. If you can't find out how he died, then I'll call the police and you are all going to jail! You all knew him someway. Interview each other and find out your names, jobs, what you brought to the party, and how your relationship was with Mr. Grim."

4) Interview

Guests interview each other to get character information. Give them the below sheet so they can write down information about the characters. They only need to fill in the first three columns. The other two columns about time are for later. Each character has the answers to these questions on their character cards (name, and #1 and #2 on the character card). It's important that all the information on the character cards is relayed.

(Interview worksheet provided on TPT.)

5) Distribute the map to each guest (to be used later)

(Map provided on TPT.)

6) Announcement by the butler

“I found the body at 8:15 pm. This was after dinner.”

Step 5a: Distribute room cards to each guest.

These are the "cards" below. Cut them up and put them in an envelope (separating the 8 pm and 8:30 ones). Students who have "Take room card" on their character card should take a room card for the appropriate time.

powder closet
dining room
billiard room
powder closet
dining room

This will decide what room they were in before and after the death of Mr. Grim. It does not matter what room each person gets (although the guests don't know this). Unless their character card indicates what they were doing at that time, the students can invent whatever reason they want for why they were in that room.

Step 5bGuests: "Find out where everyone was before and after this time. Ask them what they were doing. Write your answers in the last two columns of the interview sheet."

Step 6: Announcement

“The body was found in the study. There was no blood anywhere or on the body. Please think about it. That is all the information I have. Discuss in groups. If you think you know what happened, please come see me."

(Looking at the map, they'll be able to see that no one was in the study during the night. However, they should be able to notice that Wally found his snake in the adjoining room at 8:30. And the fact that there was no blood on the scene should eliminate most of the items carried by the guests as the death weapon.

Students will likely accuse Dr. Watkins, since he had medicine. If they do, remind them that Dr. Watkins was only there to take care of Mr. Grim (who has a weak heart condition). Once they remember Mr. Grim's heart, the students should be able to put together how he died: he came across the cobra in the study between 8 and 8:30 and had a heart attack. )

Mystery Activity Notes

  • As you can see, this is very (overly?) complicated. I'd advise making your own mystery if you are so motivated.
  • If you use this activity, make sure you don't call it a 'murder mystery', since there is in fact no murder.
  • Make sure the important students are relaying the important parts of their character information. Some of it is essential for the plot to unfold.

My students enjoyed the activity. They figured out the ending with a little help from me (I had to say "No, It was not the doctor. But, why was the doctor there??) After teasing this out, one student suggested the correct solution. Some of the boys were let down because no one was murdered in the end, but overall, it was a good activity. It kept the students communicating and entertained for two 45-minute classes.

All the above materials (maps and worksheets) are available for download on TPT here.

- Matthew Barton / (copyright)

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59 comments on “ESL Murder Mystery Game: Mystery at Mr. Grim’s Mansion

  1. Anne Bennett (Posted on 3-31-2013 at 00:56) Reply

    This is awesome! Thank you for doing all the work so my students and I can have fun!

  2. Dominique (Posted on 5-30-2013 at 02:25) Reply

    Amazing, really thanks, after 3 hours searching online I finally found something great :D

  3. Erica (Posted on 8-16-2013 at 10:44) Reply

    This is the best mystery game I’ve ever seen! Thanks a million!

  4. Karen (Posted on 9-15-2013 at 15:00) Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this; I’m doing a mystery unit with my grade 12s and was able to use this as a template from which I was able to create more characters in order to match our class size and skill level. You’re wonderful! It also opened up to alternate endings (like the movie Clue!) :)

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 9-15-2013 at 18:55) Reply

      Great! I’m sure it’ll take a lot of planning. I hope it works out!

  5. Lisa (Posted on 10-25-2013 at 12:25) Reply

    I too felt like I searched forever. Thank you for a great starting place. Doing this today with grade 7 Humanities class (40 students). Have adapted by adding more characters. I’m excited!

    1. mb (Posted on 10-25-2013 at 18:38) Reply

      40 students! Wow. That must have been complicated to plan. It will take forever for the students to interview each other (maybe this is a good thing ;) ). If you’ve used my storyline, I hope the plot unfolded as planned!

  6. Magali (Posted on 11-5-2013 at 03:41) Reply

    Thank you! This is brilliant!

  7. Lauren (Posted on 11-25-2013 at 03:05) Reply

    Hi, thanks so much for this. I completed the activity with Thai adults and it worked really well with a mixed level class- I gave out pics of the objects to help, and modified some of them to remove the love making items! With 10 of us playing it took an hour. It’s one of the best speaking activities I’ve found!

  8. Pingback: How to Host a Mystery in the Classroom | Family - Popular Question & Answer

  9. Mohammad Abdolmaleki (Posted on 1-9-2014 at 08:57) Reply

    Thanks a lot!awesome

  10. Mohammad Abdolmaleki (Posted on 1-23-2014 at 09:19) Reply

    Thanks a milion

  11. Ellie (Posted on 2-2-2014 at 08:33) Reply

    It's perfect!Thank you!

  12. Jenni (Posted on 6-9-2014 at 20:00) Reply

    Thank you! I have tried to plan an activity like this one more than once without success. I am looking forward to using this tool!

  13. Shira (Posted on 9-22-2014 at 01:40) Reply

    Wonderful and thank you.

    1. Aria (Posted on 11-15-2022 at 02:31) Reply

      it is very wonderful.The students is very excited.complicated as it was,but my students enjoyed it.’Ifeel a learning surge!Through this activity, they are more interested in English.Thank you for this….!

  14. I just did this with my class and it was amazing (Posted on 11-13-2014 at 08:48) Reply

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK!!! your plan was easy to follow and precise! my class loved it and had tons of fun!

  15. Trevina (Posted on 3-24-2015 at 22:23) Reply

    This is a great critical thinking activity. If you could make a book on/offline with class mysteries for different levels, I’d by it.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 3-24-2015 at 22:45) Reply

      Thank you, Trevina. Also, thank you for your kind donation! The money has gone to the hosting bill, which is very helpful. I wish there were more mysteries online for ESL class. I’m afraid, at least at the moment, I don’t have enough time to write a book. Heck, coming up with just one was trying. Thank you for the vote of confidence though. I hope your class goes well!
      – Matthew Barton

  16. Neil (Posted on 4-16-2015 at 15:36) Reply

    Thank you so much for this! My class just wrote their exams yesterday and we have a field trip tomorrow, so I wanted to do something fun today. They had a blast while sipping on Perrier and pretending they were at a fancy party. It was really exciting when one of the students figured it out at the end! I think I may have enjoyed it a little bit too much too! Great for a small group of advanced students. It took an hour and a half to complete.

  17. Sarah (Posted on 5-5-2015 at 21:39) Reply

    Thank you Thank you Thank you! This was great for practicing the past progressive. There were only 5 people in the group, but it worked fine. It was probably the minimum amount of people to successfully play the game. They figured out the solution, but 2 other possibilities arose that can’t be dismissed: 1. He died of a heart attack after eating his son’s wasabi. 2. The doctor poisoned him by slipping poison into his wine.

    So Much Fun!

  18. Pure Testo (Posted on 8-14-2015 at 02:24) Reply

    I know this website presents quality based content and other data, is there any other web page which
    provides these information in quality?

  19. Matthew (Posted on 8-26-2015 at 23:48) Reply

    Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to create a top notch article… but
    what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

  20. Ren©e (Posted on 10-27-2015 at 08:19) Reply

    Fantastic plot and very suitable for teenagers and there is no actual murder! I’ll post again after Friday, which is when I’ll be doing this activity.
    English school, Brazil.

  21. Fran (Posted on 11-7-2015 at 19:25) Reply

    thank you so much! This is really great!

  22. Arifah Leon El Riva (Posted on 11-10-2015 at 00:19) Reply

    Thanks a lot. this is a good material to teach english in my ESL class. Can’t wait to see another interesting material. :)

  23. Matt (Posted on 2-17-2016 at 05:40) Reply

    Brilliant thanks! I promised my students I would do something different today (after a week of exams) and I would never had enough time to come up with this on my own! Thanks!

  24. Gabriella (Posted on 5-30-2016 at 23:59) Reply

    I used this last year for a group of young ESL teenagers. They absolutely loved it! So, I’m perfecting it this year to use again. Thank you very much!!!

  25. Sabrina (Posted on 6-29-2016 at 12:34) Reply

    A W E S O M E ! I used it today in the last class of the year (advanced level) My pupils loved it! Thanks for posting ^_^

  26. Lee (Posted on 11-7-2016 at 19:41) Reply

    Sounds exciting! Gonna try this out, thanks!

  27. Jim (Posted on 12-1-2016 at 07:55) Reply

    A big THANKS for Spain for creating this game! Couldn´t be more excited to try it with my group of sixth graders this afternoon.

  28. Evangelos Dimos Greece (Posted on 5-9-2017 at 07:22) Reply

    Simply FANTASTIC!!

  29. Rachel (Posted on 7-28-2019 at 10:11) Reply

    I know this is an old post but still so well done.
    I wonder if any of those who created extra characters could share them.
    Thank you and gracias from Spain!

  30. Ruth A. Douthitt (Posted on 9-20-2019 at 10:51) Reply

    I played this with my 7th grade students in 2015-2016 and they loved it! Of the 180 students, only one group (of three boys) figured it out! All the others guessed the doctor. :)

  31. Ruth A. Douthitt (Posted on 9-20-2019 at 10:52) Reply

    I’m tweaking this game slightly so my co-workers can play it as a team builder. Should be fun! :)

  32. army (Posted on 4-26-2020 at 06:41) Reply

    Wohh precisely what I was searching for, thanks for posting.

  33. Amina Stevens- Homes by Amina (Posted on 12-12-2020 at 07:34) Reply

    Just wanted to say that i did this in my classroom and will be doing it with a group of realtors (my new profession) today. As an avid board gamer, escape room and murder enthusiast, I hope you know this is one of my favorite games of all time! Thank you :D

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 12-12-2020 at 13:48) Reply

      Great to hear. I’d love to make a new one, but it’s hard to come up with a good plot. Hope your event goes well!

  34. Amina (Posted on 12-12-2020 at 07:36) Reply

    Btw, I did it with my 12th grade english students and they LOVED it (some hated losing) but, yes!

  35. Peter (Posted on 2-7-2021 at 10:30) Reply

    Great, Matthew! Thank you so much. I´ve used your story to make a ppt presentation and use it like that in the classroom. I´ve added some enigmas too, so the students (14-16 years old) really need a whole hour to solve the mystery.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 2-7-2021 at 12:51) Reply

      Great. What kind of enigmas? If you feel you any of the materials could be useful for other teachers, let me know ( and I can add it to this page. Regardless, glad to hear that you’ve found it useful.

  36. Harmony (Posted on 3-29-2021 at 23:24) Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful activity!! My students will absolutely love it!!

  37. Anna (Posted on 5-25-2021 at 02:22) Reply

    I actually used this with a high ability non-EAL GCSE class and they LOVED it! They got so into where everyone was and tracking their movements and motives – it was great fun! And i think I might use your rough template to help create different versions with more back story too! Thank you so much for the resources and easy to follow plan.

    1. MB (Posted on 5-25-2021 at 09:25) Reply

      Did they figure it out?

  38. G¼lnihal K. (Posted on 8-29-2021 at 14:10) Reply

    I’m actually a bit confused about the card distribution since some characters’ cards saying to take both of it. Should they pick 2 cards then?

    1. mb (Posted on 8-29-2021 at 14:35) Reply

      Yes, for the characters that say “[take 8:00 room card]”, then take a card for 8:00. If that character’s card also says “[take 8:30 room card]”, then they’ll need to take a second one.

      1. G¼lnihal K. (Posted on 9-3-2021 at 04:17) Reply

        Thanks a lot for putting in time to create this and also clearing up the confusion i had earlier, you rock!

  39. Natalie (Posted on 10-22-2021 at 14:56) Reply

    Hello from Russian English teacher!) Thank you so much for such a brilliant plot and details! I’m going to use it tomorrow! Will be glad to shre my feedback asap.
    Thanks a bunch!

  40. Alex T (Posted on 5-5-2022 at 19:04) Reply

    Thank you for this awesome resource. I’ve adapted it a bit to use with some adult learners in Japan for an event my office is putting on. I can’t wait to try it out with them!

  41. BEYER (Posted on 5-13-2022 at 01:41) Reply

    Thank you so much for making this activity. I did it with 11 future engineers and they loved it! It was easy to set up and the instructions are really clear. We didn’t use props and the class was buzzing for over an hour trying to find the guilty party


  42. Jannat (Posted on 8-4-2022 at 08:27) Reply

    That was amazing!
    Quick question:
    Do you have more?

    1. mb (Posted on 8-4-2022 at 20:48) Reply

      Hello. I do not. There is the OneStop English one I referenced at the beginning of the page, however.

  43. Hocine Nezai (Posted on 11-21-2022 at 15:56) Reply

    It is really amazing thank you so much for the hard work appreciate it

  44. Hocine Nezai (Posted on 11-21-2022 at 16:06) Reply

    It’s not complicated at all, it’s so simple and well planned

  45. Bailey Keaton (Posted on 1-7-2023 at 18:58) Reply

    Do you have anymore? Played this with my group of 7th graders and they loved it. However out of all my students only one girl guessed. So fun!

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 1-7-2023 at 21:42) Reply

      Hello. Glad they enjoyed it! It’s the only one I’ve written.

  46. RH (Posted on 1-29-2023 at 07:48) Reply

    I’m really looking forward to try it with my students on Monday! Thank you for a brilliant idea, I love it and I hope my students will love it, too!

  47. AP (Posted on 4-9-2023 at 16:37) Reply

    Thank you so much for putting this together & making it available for other educators. You have no idea what a blessing your generosity is. Thank you!!

  48. Anonymous (Posted on 11-13-2023 at 04:58) Reply

    I like a cook

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