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Lesson Plan

What's in a Mystery? Exploring and Identifying Mystery Elements

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Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Eight 45- to 60-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Betsy Brindza

Shaker Heights, Ohio


International Literacy Association


Materials and Technology






  • Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (Yearling Books, 1977)

  • Chart paper

  • Overhead projector

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1. Obtain and familiarize yourself with a mystery like Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. This book works well because students can easily identify the mystery to be solved, the clues used to solve it, and the detective's role. You may choose a different mystery that is appropriate for your class from the Mystery Picture Books website as well. Prepare to use a think-aloud strategy when you read this book to students. This will give you the opportunity to point out the key characteristics of a mystery and will also let you model questioning, predicting, and using prior knowledge.

When selecting places to stop, be sure not to interrupt the flow of the story too much. Suggestions for think-alouds include:
  • Describing important characters and how they are arranged.

  • Identifying clues and predicting when and where the next clue will be found.

  • Applying the clues and what they mean to the story.

  • Analyzing the clues for relevance to solving the mystery.

  • Predicting what will happen.
When pausing to think aloud, use the terminology from the Mystery Words list and the Mystery Elements list to reinforce their meaning for students. You might want to mark the book with sticky notes that list the questions or statements you will use during the think-aloud.

2. Gather mysteries to have available for independent reading and read-alouds during this project. The Mystery Picture Books website should be a good resource for this as well.

3. Make sure that students have permission to use the Internet, following your school policy. If you need to, reserve sessions in your school's computer lab. These do not need to be on consecutive days (see Sessions 1 and 6).

4. Visit and familiarize yourself with MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries: The Case of the Ruined Roses and It's a Mystery. Bookmark these websites on your classroom or lab computers.

5. Make copies of the Mystery Graphic Organizer, the Mystery Writing Rubric, and the Super Sleuth Peer Editing Sheet for each student. Make two copies of the Mystery Elements Writing Guide for each student.

6. Copy the Mystery Words and Mystery Elements lists onto chart paper and make a transparency of the Mystery Graphic Organizer.

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