Mystery Lesson Plan for ESL

I am a big fan of mysteries, so I’ve done a complete mystery lesson plan using a fun mystery story as the basis for a vocabulary and grammar lesson. There’s also practice in close reading and critical thinking as students try to solve the mystery and a graphic organizer to guide students to write their own mystery story. I designed this for my ESL classroom but I know it’s been used in ELA classrooms across the country.

The Mystery Lesson Plan Includes

  • Mystery vocabulary such as alibi and motive.
  • Using modal verbs of speculation to guess the significance of clues
  • A mystery story as along reading
  • Reading strategies such as reading for key information and evaluating information
  • Graphic organizer in the form of a mystery reading worksheet
  • Mystery writing worksheet to help students write their own stories.

There’s complete teacher notes, ideas for alternative or extension activities and an answer key.

Why Use Mysteries

I love using mysteries. Here’s a few reasons why.

  • They encourage extensive reading. Most people like puzzles and mysteries so it can encourage students to read outside of class.
  • When you read a detective story, you tend to read for whodunit, for the outlines of the plot and then for the details. So students learn extensive and intensive reading skills.
  • Specifically mysteries teach analytical reading comprehension skills like skimming, scanning, and evaluating important material (i.e. clues)Mysteries are fun. Students love puzzles and riddles. They also love the CSI and Law and Order shows.
  • They teach reading and writing to a genre, in this case the Whodunit.
  • They give students practice making guesses and speculations
  • Provide the perfect jumping off point for creative writing , with good planning as mysteries require a lot of pre-writing outlining.

Preview and Buy the lesson plan?

You can purchase and download the full unit from Teachers Pay Teachers: Whodunit Unit

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12 Replies to “Mystery Lesson Plan for ESL”

  1. Thank you so much, this is a great lesson!
    I love that it includes reading, writing and speaking parts – plus the ability to include a grammar lesson on speculative modals!

    I’ll be giving this a go on Friday… for my first real ESL teaching experience! Ahh! Wish me luck 🙂


    1. Wow! I’m so proud (and slightly intimidated to be a part of that)! Good luck and do leave me a comment on how it goes and what you did with the materials!

  2. Hey Walton,

    The class went really well, thanks! It was an Upper Intermediate class and I think the level was just right for them.

    The Stolen Song reading activity was the biggest success, I think! The students did a great job of nutting out the mystery! And it was good for introducing some vocabulary they hadn’t seen before.

    The Perfect Crime clue-by-clue was good, but I did it early in the class, before people had relaxed and were comfortable I think and the speaking was a little stilted. I think this also would have worked better if I had more than one group, so there was a bit of group competition (I had only three students, so only one group!). I combined this with a presentation and separate worksheet on speculative modals and it complemented them nicely.

    I didn’t do the writing activity, as I was worried about the difficulty and how to “model the text” before letting them write… but in hindsight I think it would have been good. My students were more advanced than I expected and moved through things very quickly and there would have been heaps of time for this!

    Thanks again for the materials and the inspiration!

  3. I used the get a clue activity with the murder of a millionaire and it didn’t go as I hoped it would. I gave my students, who are upper intermediate, 4-6 clues each day over the course of 4 days. I had my students get into groups of 3-4, but perhaps it was difficult for them when they had to get all the clues together. They complained that there was just too much information. I had asked them to review the clues at home by themselves so it wouldn’t be too overwhelming for them during class, but I don’t think they did… On the end of the 4th day, they still weren’t sure who the murderer was.

    Overall, I could have presented this activity differently, but I’m not sure how. How did you do it? On your site, it says that you asked them what was important about the new clues. I did pretty much the same thing but I wasn’t capturing the students’ interests. Perhaps it was too repetitive for them when I asked them the same thing everyday.

  4. Hey, Tiffany. Glad you used the lesson and I’m so happy to have some feedback. I wonder if doing it over the course of four days wasn’t what threw them. I think a mystery as complicated as this one (Murder of a Millionaire) needs to be done in one-go (or in class and then for homework) because there’s a lot to remember. Also when I do this in class, with some students that don’t have critical reasoning skills, or aren’t used to mysteries, I really have to guide them with questions.

    The sword is missing, what does that mean?
    Could be the weapon, teacher.

    Why didn’t the CEO react to the show? Why did he stand behind everyone else? Who saw him there?
    No one, teacher.
    Oh, maybe he left?

    Giving them the Mystery Worksheet also might work to help guide them and get them to cross off suspects. Clue #15 was meant to rule out Mr. Holcombe and Mrs. Johnson. If they do that on a sheet of paper, they can actually cross them out. Which helps them to focus and not backtrack, so to speak!

    Alternatively, the clue-by-clues might work for homework, one clue a day. Because they have less detail to remember and are more open, students can go crazy speculating.

    Thanks again for the feedback! Maybe I’ll write a simpler one someday!

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