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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


Student Objectives

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3 and 4

Session 5

Session 6

Session 7

Session 8


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Identify and recognize the key characteristics of the mystery genre both through class discussions and by listening to and reading mysteries

  • Apply the information and terminology they have learned about mysteries using a graphic organizer to create their own mystery story outline

  • Synthesize their knowledge about mystery stories by using the graphic organizers to write a mystery story that incorporates the key characteristics they have discussed as a class

  • Practice working collaboratively and using their analytic skills by editing each other's work

  • Practice revising their own writing using peer feedback

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Session 1

Note: Students will use computers for part of this session so, if possible, you should conduct it in the computer lab.

1. Ask students if they have ever read any mystery stories, and if so, what their favorites are. Ask them to think about what the different parts of a mystery are, recording their responses on chart paper.

2. Show students the Mystery Elements list and review any aspects you have not already discussed. Leave the sheet up where students can see it.

3. Ask students to think about the kind of words they might find in a mystery. Record their responses on chart paper.

4. Show students the Mystery Words list and review any words you have not already discussed. Leave the sheet up where students can see it.

5. Explain that the story you're about to read is a mystery. Ask students to listen for the terminology and elements that were previously discussed. Read aloud Nate the Great or the other mystery you have selected. During the reading, stop and use the think-aloud strategy you have prepared (see Preparation 1).

6. Talk with students about the different characteristics in the story that fit with the Mystery Elements list. On a blank sheet of chart paper, record the specific elements of the story, including the characters, setting, plot details, clues, distractions, and solution. You might want to encourage discussion by asking specific questions for each element, such as:
  • What were the clues?

  • In what order did the clues appear?

  • Can we make predictions based on the clues?
7. Divide the class into groups of two or three, and have them read MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries: The Case of the Ruined Roses (or another short mystery story you have selected from the Mystery Picture Books website). Have students take notes on the Mystery Elements Writing Guide as they read. They should try to identify the characters, setting, plot, clues, and distractions. This will help them summarize the story and recall the key elements of a mystery.

8. Once students complete the Mystery Elements Writing Guide, have them share their responses, identifying what elements were used to solve the mystery and how they were used.

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Session 2

1. Review the elements of mystery stories from the previous session recalling the details from Nate the Great using the list you created as a group (see Session 1, Step 6).

2. Introduce the Mystery Graphic Organizer with the linear design. Using the overhead, model how to fill in the organizer. Ask students to help you answer the questions using Nate the Great as the mystery.

3. Explain that an important aspect when writing a mystery is the arrangement of characters and events in order for the story to make sense. Have students look at the organizer you have filled in and the list of mystery elements from Nate the Great that you created in Session 1 (see Step 6). Discuss the parts of the story, including the introduction of characters and the clues. Questions for discussion include:
  • How are the characters introduced? Is the order of their introduction important?

  • In what order are the clues introduced?

  • Can we break this story up into a beginning, a middle, and an end? What happens in each part of the story?
4. Distribute copies of the graphic organizer and a clean Mystery Elements Writing Guide to each student. Explain that they are going to be writing a mystery and this is the planning step. Draw their attention to the Mystery Elements and the Mystery Words and tell them that they are to use these things and the guide and organizer to outline a mystery of their own. Students should then fill in the graphic organizers while you circulate and offer any necessary assistance.

5. Once students have completed the organizers, have them share their organizers in small groups. As each student presents his or her organizer, the others in the group should take notes using the Mystery Elements list to guide them; they should offer feedback on specific elements that need improvement or that are missing. While the students are sharing, circulate from group to group to provide feedback on the organizers, being sure that each organizer has details to fit a mystery.

6. Give students time to make additions to their organizers as necessary. Collect the organizers at the end of the session.

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Session 3 and 4

Note: Before Session 3, you should look at the graphic organizers and write comments. Be sure to note elements that need further development.

1. Briefly review the elements of mystery writing using the lists you created in Sessions 1 and 2.

2. Pass back the graphic organizers and explain that students should use them to begin drafting their own mystery stories. Before they begin, use the sample Nate the Great organizer to demonstrate how students might write their stories. For example, use the story to model how a mystery might begin. You may want to read the beginning of the story again for review. (Emphasize that the students' mysteries do not need to begin in the same way.)

3. While students are working, circulate among them answering any questions. You may find it necessary to work individually with students who are having trouble organizing and using the information from their graphic organizers.

4. Collect the drafts at the end of Session 4.

Homework: Students who have not completed their stories should do so before Session 5. You will need to collect the stories before Session 5 and review them, writing comments on elements that may need further development.

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Session 5

1. Pass back the stories. Using the Super Sleuth Peer Editing Sheet, demonstrate how students will help each other figure out where their stories need work. In the left column, students should identify and place a check mark next to the characteristic as they locate it. Then students should reread the story and locate the information, filling it in on the right column.

2. Divide the students into pairs with their rough drafts. Students should fill out the peer editing sheets and then work together to brainstorm ideas for how each student will revise his or her story.

Homework (due before Session 6): Students should revise their stories using their peer brainstorm session as a guide.

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Session 6

1. Meet with students to provide feedback and check their progress on their drafts. Review the Mystery Writing Rubric with students to show them how their stories will be evaluated.

2. While you are holding individual meetings, have students visit MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries and It's a Mystery to practice reading and solving mysteries.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 7): Students should revise their stories using your feedback and the rubric as a guide.

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Session 7

1. Have students write their stories on the Super Sleuth Story Template.

2. If students finish copying their stories, they can spend more time visiting the MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries and It's a Mystery websites to solve more mysteries or read the books you have selected for this lesson.

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Session 8

Hold a Super Sleuth-a-thon. Students can each share page 1 of the mystery template with a different partner, who must identify the clues and predict a solution for the mystery before seeing page 2. After each student has had a chance to share his or her story with at least one other person, gather the class together to discuss what they have learned about writing mysteries.

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  • Post students' stories on a class website or create a classroom mystery magazine for family and friends to enjoy.

  • Use the students' stories to hold a Super Sleuth-a-thon with another class.

  • Adapt the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Technical Reading and Writing Using Board Games so that students design a board game using mysteries.

  • Adapt this lesson for a different genre, for example fantasy or historical fiction.

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  • Informally assess students' comprehension of the characteristics of a mystery story during group discussions. While students are participating, reflect on their answers, giving feedback to help them expand and develop ideas.

  • While students are working independently to organize their story ideas, meet with them in personal conferences to provide feedback and reflection on their Mystery Graphic Organizers. Give them specific guidance as to the criteria of a mystery and reflection on where to develop their ideas. The top of the graphic organizer has a checklist of the criteria of a mystery. The students are to check the criteria after filling in the graphic organizer.

  • Assess students' stories using the Mystery Writing Rubric.

  • Have students use the Super Sleuth Peer Editing Sheet to practice both identifying the characteristics of a mystery and working collaboratively. You may choose to collect the peer editing sheets to evaluate students' abilities to work collaboratively, or you may simply use informal assessments during class sessions.

  • Evaluate the success of the lesson by looking at the progress of the students from their graphic organizers to their final drafts.

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