The Usual SuspectsAlibi! is a longer TEFL‏‎ game which can be played by an intermediate or above class. It involves a lot of speaking‏‎ and listening‏‎ and can also be helpful with skills such as note taking.

For the teacher there is little preparation and once the students are familiar with the game then it can be used with the same class with just slight variations.

The game can last an entire lesson.


Write the word Alibi! on the board and ask the students what it means. Especially if this is the first time you are playing the game with the class you can get into a short discussion on alibis, perhaps saying that last night the school was robbed at midnight and asking different students what they were doing at that time.

The students should also be familiar with vocabulary like this:

  • alibi
  • excuse
  • witness
  • interview
  • suspect (as both a noun and verb)

Again if this is a first time, as a class get different students to suggest questions they could ask the suspect, which will often be in the past tense of course:

  • Where were you last night?
  • Was anyone with you?
  • Did anyone see you?
  • What time did you go to bed?
  • Do you have any witnesses?

Go through the kinds of questions they can ask in order to check an alibi and, hopefully, find a hole in it!

The Setup

Present the crime to the class and ask them to take notes. A (non-violent!) robbery is good here; the first time make it nice and simple and only with a class familiar with the game can you get more involved.

{AL}Last night at exactly midnight, a gang of thieves dug a tunnel into the bank outside the school and then stole all the money. The Police are now investigating and have a few suspects they’d like to interview…{/AL}

Make sure everyone understands the scenario.

Now divide the class into small groups of 3 or so. One group will be the suspects, the others are groups of detectives. The only proviso here is that there are as many groups of detectives as there are individual suspects.

(A good tip for the first time you play is to choose suspects who are quite good at English.)

Send the “suspects” into one corner of the class. Tell everyone that you have rounded up the suspects but they all have an alibi for last night: they were all eating pizza at a local restaurant (use a real location in town if you can).

Now tell all the “detectives” that they will interviewing the suspects and quite simply they need to find holes in their alibis. To start this off, in their groups they need to write down a series of questions‏‎ they’re going to ask the suspects.

While the detectives are preparing their questions, tell the suspects they must get their stories straight. They need to spend ten minutes going over everything they can about their time in the pizzeria: what they ate, what they drank, who was there and so on so that when they are being interviewed individually they won’t have different stories.

The Interviews

After the students have had time to prepare their roles, each group of detectives gets five minutes to interview one of the suspects. They will simply ask the suspect about their alibis in the pizzeria last night and try and find as much as they can about it.

Then after five minutes the suspects move round to a new group of detectives and are interviewed again. This time, of course, the detectives will probably find holes in the alibis but they shouldn’t let on.

After all the suspects have been interviewed by each group of detectives it’s time for the detectives to prepare their report. While they are doing this, the suspects can get together and find out what holes were revealed in their alibi and try to plug them.

The Reports

Get each group of detectives to tell you what holes they found in the alibis:

  • Javier said they all drank beer but Manuel said he drank just water.
  • Louiz said they sat by the window but Maria said they sat at the back.
  • Carlos said they arrived at 10 but Maria said it was 10.30.

Then the suspects can counter:

  • We all ordered beer to begin with but then Manuel changed his mind and had water.
  • When we first arrived we sat by the window but when Maria arrived late she made us move to the back.
  • Maria was late!

Then as a class you can decide if the suspects are guilty or not!

Variations on a Theme

Once the class is familiar with the game you can begin to expand it. It’s likely that the first few times you play a lot of holes will come up in the alibis, but as you continue the “suspects” will get to know the kinds of questions which will be asked and prepare themselves better.

Other ideas include preparing cheat-sheets for the suspects: laminated cards with a few key facts about their alibi so it’s harder for the detectives to find holes.

Related Articles

6 Tips to Make your ESL Classes More Effective

Teaching is undeniably a challenging job, in fact many consider it one of the most difficult careers you could choose. Nevertheless, being a teacher is an enriching experience. Through quality education and effective teaching methodologies,...

read more

ICAL TEFL Resources

The ICAL TEFL site has thousands of pages of free TEFL resources for teachers and students. These include: The TEFL ICAL Grammar Guide. Country Guides for teaching around the world. How to find TEFL jobs. How to teach English. TEFL Lesson Plans....

read more