Puzzle stories are stories which have most of the narrative missing and where one person tells his listener(s) a small part (usually the outcome) of a story. The listeners then deduce the causes and course of events which led to this consequence by asking closed questions using the past simple, past continuous and past perfect tenses.
The aim of using puzzle stories in class is to practise question forms and the mentioned past tenses, with the aim of the game being to solve the puzzle as soon as possible or within a time limit. The listeners (or players) who are deducing the course of events need to ask questions to establish the missing information in the puzzle and decide what sequence of event led to the conclusion.
The listeners must guess, deduce and eventually tell the story through the use of yes/no questions. They can be guided only by the storyteller's four possible replies of "Yes", "No", "The question (or answer) is not relevant", or "Your question is based on a false assumption".
Example:The screaming man
Puzzle: A man passes a window; a telephone rings; he screams and then dies.
Solution: In the aftermath of the apocalypse, the man had thought he was the only person left on Earth and jumped off a building in despair and loneliness. As he fell past the window he realized he had been mistaken, but by that time it was to late...
Typical questions the listener will ask with the required grammar structures:
- Did anyone kill the man? (past simple)
- Did the man die immediately after hearing the phone? (past simple)
- Was he/had he been running away from someone? (past continuous/past perfect continuous)
- Had he recently been fired from his job? (past perfect)
The necessary responses from the storyteller:
- "No, they didn´t"
- "Yes, he did"
- "That question is based on a false assumption" (the man didn´t pass the window on foot)
- "Your question isn´t relevant" (we don´t know; maybe the man had been fired. However, giving a negative or affirmative answer will lead the listener down the wrong track, which will frustrate them and lengthen the activity)
It's worth noting that the storyteller should be encouraged to add auxiliary verbs to their positive and negative responses, e.g. "Yes he had", "No they weren`t", "Yes she did" etc. to maximize grammar practice.