Mysteries

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.

Objectives

  • 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

Materials

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

Warm Up

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.

Mystery

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!

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

More Mysteries

As my loyal fans will know, I am a huge fan of mysteries and I love using them in the classroom. Mysteries are fun for students. You can bring up fun topics like murder and mayhen in an acceptable way. They teach logic , inference, and connection-making. And they lend themselves to practicing speculation, modals of certainty, not to mention mixed verb tenses.

So I was excited, if confused to see a post about teaching argument writing with mysteries on the English Companion Ning. It included a link to this school textbook on Argument Writing (No idea how legal this link is, but it is hosted by the publisher so click at your own risk) by Heinemann that starts out with a mystery(And also a fencing metaphor so this is pretty much the perfect textbook for me)!

I had never thought about it, but solving mysteries also involves marshaling relevant evidence and sorting opinion from fact, important skills for writing an argument or opinion essay! This seems like the most brilliant idea in the world and if anyone wants to hire me or join me writing a textbook on using mysteries in the ESL classroom, I would be ecstatic!

A Cool Web Resource for Mysteries

In the course of looking up some of the resources referred to on the Ning site, I stumbled on: 5 Minute Mystery which has short mysteries that can indeed be solved in 5 minutes or so. It also has a points and ranking system which makes it fun for students–you can even set up a league. But what I really like is the scoring system that gives you points for not only solving the mystery, but also identifying clues that incriminate or exonerate suspects. Sort of a high-tech version of my Mystery Solving Worksheet from my own mystery unit.

I like warming students up to mysteries by writing Whodunit on the board and having students guess what it means. It’s also fun to discuss the bad grammar of the target phrase (Who done it?) and the reason for it; I don’t actually know but it sounds like it targets readers of pulp crime fiction who may not be incredibly well-educated and are anxious to get to the solution, in other words the people who read detective stories for fun. Which is what we want our students to do, right? Read for fun?

What Happened Here? Another VoiceThread Mystery

I still think this is one of the best ways to use voicethread, to put up odd pictures and scenes and have students leave speculations on it. So here’s a scene I ran across the other day at the shopping mall. Feel free to comment away with theories and ideas.