I love reading mysteries and many students love it too. Not only are mysteries often action packed, but they also give students a reason to want to read. Instead of forcing students to read because it’s educational, students want to solve the mystery and find out who did it. There are a lot of great resources out there and a lot of ways to present mystery stories to your students.
- To get students reading. Mysteries provide motivation to read extensively to get the main idea but also intensively for clues.
- To practice speculating in English
First of all, you need a mystery story. Mystery Net has a lot of mysteries and they are updated regularly. Best of all, they have several different kinds of stories.
Get a Clue stories are more like puzzles than stories. Students are given a brief description of the mystery and then several clues one at a time. For each clue, students should discuss what this new information might mean. These Get a Clue stories are great for getting students talking and they always have a clever twist. Note that you can turn any murder mystery into a Get a Clue story by cutting it up into parts and giving students one part at a time.
I have also written several puzzles like this which you can find in the Mysteries section of my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
Mystery Net also has more traditional mysteries stories called Solve It as well as See and Solve mysteries which include a picture to help students solve the mystery. If you don’t have Internet or computers in the classroom, you will have to click around the picture yourself and write down the clues so you can share them with the class. Finally there are Kid’s Mysteries and Quick Solve stories for kids. Both are fairly traditional reading mystery stories.
Obviously you can also use a short story too or a longer book by Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle and include a reading comprehension unit. There are even shortened and graded versions of classic mystery novels available out there.
If you know of any other resources, please share in the comments.
Using a Mystery in Class
Put the word “Whodunit” up on the board. Ask if students know what it means? Explain that it is slang for “Who did it?”, and another word for mystery stories because when you read mysteries, you read to find out whodunit.
Ask if students enjoy reading mysteries or watching them on TV and which are their favorites.
You can discuss famous detectives and authors and the difference between detective stories, police procedurals (which tend to focus more on how police solve a mystery with lab equipment and different legal issues), and mystery stories that may or may not allow the reader to solve them (Chesterfield’s Father Brown mysteries are more short stories than solvable mysteries).
Ask why people like mysteries in general and discuss whether it is good to read about murder and crime.
You might want to introduce some vocabulary at this point such as: alibi, suspect, witness, clue, fingerprint.
Another fun warm up is to write up, or name, famous detectives and have them name the author who created the detective. Or the opposite: name the writer and have the students name the detectives created by that author. Some common ones include: Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie created Poirot and Miss Marple, Dashiel Hammet created Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler created Philip Marlowe.
Now tell students that you are going to solve a mystery together.
Give students the mystery you have chosen and make sure that they have the appropriate vocabulary. Give them plenty of time to read and absorb everything and make good guesses about what happened. You will have to decide whether you are going to help them at all, or let them figure it all out on their own. You can guide students to the right answer by asking key questions or repeating key facts from the text.
If you have given them a long mystery to read, or the level of the class is low, I often give them my Mystery Worksheet or put it up on the board and go over the details of the story. What was the crime, who was the victim, who are the suspects and what clues do we have? This can help students solve the mystery and it also helps you check their comprehension. For some mysteries, putting a timeline on the board can also be useful.
I’ve also added a whole mystery unit that includes a reading, discussion, vocab, grammar and writing.
Hope you and your students have as much fun with these lessons as we do!