Everyone Loves a Mystery: A Genre Study

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Twenty sessions, each 60 minutes
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Students examine story elements and vocabulary associated with mystery stories through Directed Learning–Thinking Activities and then track these features as they read mystery books from the school or classroom library. Several activities at the Millennium Mystery Madness website, plus a story map project, add to their understanding and appreciation of the mystery genre. Students plan their own original mystery stories with the help of the interactive Mystery Cube, peer edit and revise their stories, and publish them online.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Students are able to actively participate in mysteries and scary stories in ways they cannot with other media.

  • Students choose to read mysteries for entertainment and enjoyment. Therefore, mysteries may provide the best opportunities for literature study.

  • Literary elements such as character, setting, plot, point of view, theme, and tone can be examined and discussed.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Materials and Technology

  • Two-Minute Mysteries by Donald J. Sobol (Scholastic, 1991) or Five-Minute Mysteries by Ken Weber (Running Press Book Publishers, 1989)

  • Computers with Internet access and printing capability

  • Computer with projection capability

  • Card stock

  • Coloring pencils or markers

  • Tag board




1. Photocopy the following handouts so that each student can have a copy:

2. For the Puzzle Piece Mystery Book Project, create a template of a puzzle and photocopy it on card stock or allow students to make their own nine-piece puzzles.

3. This lesson assumes that students have prior knowledge of story elements, the writing process, 6+1 Trait® Writing, outlining, and basic word processing and Internet skills. Students also need to know how to create story webs.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Research and examine the story elements and vocabulary that are characteristic of the mystery genre using the Internet and other available materials

  • Identify and understand the structure of mysteries using story maps to solve mystery stories online and in class

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the structure and characteristics of the mystery genre by using an outline web to plan an original mystery story, writing and revising the mystery story, and publishing it online

  • Demonstrate knowledge of story elements characteristic of mysteries by completing a project about a mystery book of their own choosing

Session 1

1. Review general story elements (e.g., plot, climax, setting, character) with students. Brainstorm story elements that students think may be unique to mysteries.

2. Have students share the names of some mystery stories and movies, and write these on the board. Have each student think about these stories/movies and make a list of any story elements that make them different from other types of stories.

3. Have pairs of students compare their lists and share new items with the class.

4. Record all the story elements that student identify as characteristic of mysteries for use in the next session.

5. Distribute the Mystery Project Calendar to students. Tell them the approximate schedule for this project, and have them fill in the month and day for each box in the calendar so they know what they should be doing throughout the project.

Session 2

1. Post the list of story elements generated in Session 1 on the board. Have students create flash cards, with a story element on each card.

2. To reinforce students' knowledge of the elements of mystery stories, read a short story from Two-Minute Mysteries or Five-Minute Mysteries and have students hold up cards when they hear the element on the card in the story. For example, if you are reading details about a character, they should be holding up a character card.

3. Repeat this flash card exercise with two or three stories, as time permits.

Session 3

Complete a Directed Learning-Thinking Activity (DL-TA) with the class using the DL-TA Teaching Format and "The Bus Ride" by Sahar Sabati. This approach exposes students to more mystery stories and generates critical thinking skills.

Session 4

1. Discuss a variety of mystery books by several authors, considering topics you would discuss in a book talk. Examples include books by Agatha Christie, Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys series), Arthur Conan Doyle, Sue Grafton, Alfred Hitchcock, Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew series), and Edgar Allan Poe; as well as books in the Goosebumps series. Talk with your school librarian to find out what might be appropriate.

2. Have students check out mystery books from your classroom or school library.

3. Allow students to have a period of extended reading time.

Session 5

1. Using a projector, access the Millennium Mystery Madness website and use it to review The History of Mystery with students, exploring links for as long as the students remain engaged. Make sure that students know how to navigate a website, and if necessary, show them how to do this.

2. Continue using the projector to review some Mystery Vocabulary.

3. Divide students into groups of two. Each group will work with a partner on the computer in the classroom when one is available.

Sessions 6 and 7

1. Allow students to work in pairs to complete the online Mystery Hunt.

2. If more time is needed, have students continue this activity during another class session.

Sessions 8 and 9

1. Distribute the Story Map for Solve-It Stories to students. Allow them to work in pairs while they complete at least one "solve-it" activity at MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries and fill in the story map handout.

2. Students who are not working at computers should be reading independently.

Session 10


To reinforce and continue working on mystery story elements, review the Mystery Elements.

2. Complete another DL-TA using the DL-TA Teaching Format and "Survival" by John M. Floyd. This time, focus on story elements in writing the thinking questions.

3. Have students respond in writing to the DL-TA, and collect the students' responses to your questions in the DL-TA. Check to make sure that students have an adequate knowledge of mystery story elements. Review the story elements if necessary.

Session 11

1. Visit the Writing Challenges webpage, where they see how to apply mystery elements to an original story. Have them bookmark its location.

2. Review how to use software such as Microsoft Word to create an outline and write a story from an outline.

Review 6+1® Trait Definitions, which defines the qualities of "good" writing. The seven traits are ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and presentation.

Session 12–18

1. Distribute the Puzzle Piece Mystery Book Project handout to students, and review it with them. This project helps students evaluate mystery novels and identify story elements.

2. Allow two groups of students per day to use the computers to fill out a Mystery Cube in preparation for writing original mystery stories. They should print out their cubes when they finish them. Students who are not working at computers can begin writing drafts on paper or completing the Puzzle Piece Mystery Book Project based on the mystery novel they are reading independently.

3. Allow students time to work on computers to complete original drafts of their mystery stories based on their story webs. Students who finish early can put final touches on the Puzzle Piece Mystery Book Project.

4. Have students peer edit and revise their stories in small groups. Give them time to make revisions. At this time, students are sharing their writing and discussing the reviewers' comments.

Sessions 19 and 20

1. Have students finish writing their mystery stories and send them to you via e-mail. After you have assessed them, have students publish them online using Mystery Writing with Joan Lowery Nixon. You may choose to share samples of writing with the class, or students can log on to the Mystery Writing site to view and read stories written by their peers.

2. Have students share their Puzzle Piece Mystery Book Project in small groups and evaluate other students and themselves.


  • Have students use the computer to complete more "solve-it" activities with story maps or read student-written mysteries at MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries.

  • Have students write a story at MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries.

  • Encourage students to read other mystery stories.

  • Read other genre stories such as science fiction and compare and contrast the story formats to mysteries.

  • Have students create Character Trading Cards for the characters in the mysteries you read or for the mysteries they have written. Students can exchange the cards and discuss how the characters are similar or different and whether or not they are well developed.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Assess students' written mystery stories using the 6+1 Trait® Writing model, specifically the Scoring Guides.

  • Assess student progress in writing, reading, appreciation of the mystery genre, and project completion throughout the course of this project, using conferencing, anecdotal notes, and observation.

  • Using the grade rubric provided, calculate a score for each Puzzle Piece Mystery Book Project for each student.
Lara Liu
K-12 Teacher
I'm eager to try a version of this unit in my 6th-grade classroom! I especially like the idea of the culminating product being a mystery that can actually be published, online. Thanks!
Lara Liu
K-12 Teacher
I'm eager to try a version of this unit in my 6th-grade classroom! I especially like the idea of the culminating product being a mystery that can actually be published, online. Thanks!
Lara Liu
K-12 Teacher
I'm eager to try a version of this unit in my 6th-grade classroom! I especially like the idea of the culminating product being a mystery that can actually be published, online. Thanks!

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