Want an engaging game of mystery that will get your students talking?

Then "What's in the Box?" is a quick, no-plan activity that will do just that!

I learned this from Daniel Kline Logsdon-Dubois during a Breton language class. He did it with a bag and brought something in it from home, but the idea was the same: use language to discover what was in the bag.

Every Monday is conversation day in my classroom and I'm always looking for different things to talk about. Weekend talk was my go-to but after many years it got old and repetitive. I still do it, but I only do it once or twice every couple of months rather than on a weekly basis. Another alternative I do are crazy convos based on random, off-the-wall questions. These can be fun and always keep the students on their toes, but as much fun as these can be, I'm always looking to change things up. Enter "What's in the box?"

My variation on Daniel's idea is to have students add personal items at random into the box that the glass will guess on. The students can't guess on their own item, but otherwise, all students will make guesses as to what's in the box, what it looks like, and to whom it belongs.

I like this variation because it's absolutely no prep. I just have to come up with a box and have my students add in items at random. It's perfect for days I'm just too tired or too stressed to do what I had originally planned, for filling in time when a lesson doesn't take as long as I had thought, or to change up the routine a bit.

Here's how it works.

As you greet your students at the door, have them choose an item of theirs at random to toss into the box in the front of the room. Tell them that they will get the object back by the end of class, but that it can be anything from their backpack that can fit in the box.

The box should be sealed with a small slot to insert items so that students can't see what's inside. We don't want students to be able to see what everyone else has put in the box because it would no longer be a guessing game. I typically use an empty copy-paper box that I cut a small hole in the top. Once everyone has added their item, I can then keep the box with me at the front of the room, remove the lid, and see all of the items at once as students make their guesses.

Then, when you're ready to start the activity, open the box so only you can see what's inside. This is where I remove the lid. I make a note of what I see so I don't have to constantly check after each and every guess.

Have students raise their hands to make guesses as to what could be in the box. This should be in the target language. I don't require them to guess the EXACT item. If they say a pencil and it's a pen, I go with it, but get them to a pen through questioning. If they say a toy, then I will accept it for any toy and then we get to the exact toy through questioning.

When a student guesses something correctly, or even close, ask further questions about the item to maximize engagement. I will ask things like color, size, what it's made of, etc. I try to get as specific and as descriptive as I can to prolong the activity and provide more input. This is a great way to teach adjectives and descriptions IN CONTEXT and a more natural way than having students memorize lists.

Once we have the item described as precisely as possible without seeing it, bring it out and show the class. Now they can see it and we can add any further description that might be necessary again by providing more input.

Now that we know what the item is, I have my students guess who that item belongs to. I start by asking if they think the item belongs to a boy or a girl or a they (for non-binary students). Then I might ask if the person they're thinking of sits in the front or back of the classroom, the left or right of the classroom, etc. Once we've narrowed it down further, I will then ask them what color hair and/or what color eyes they think this person has, if they are tall or short, an athlete, a reader, a gamer, a tiktoker, etc. Then, and only then, will I then start asking for a specific name.

Once the person has guessed correctly, return the item to the student, and start the process over with a new object. You may want to give a prize to the person who guessed the object or the owner or both. It can be something simple like a piece of candy, a privilege like a free homework pass, or extra participation points— whatever works in your classroom.

This is a fun and engaging activity to pull out of your toolbox when you're in a jam or just want to do something different. My students enjoy this and enjoy trying to compete with their fellow classmates to be the one who gets it right.

If you've ever tried this activity, let us know how it went in the comments below.

And if you'd like to download our "What's in the Box?" cheatsheet, click the button below.