Expository Escapade—Detective's Handbook

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Fifteen 40-Minute Sessions
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This lesson combines the reading of detective fiction with written expository analysis in the form of a Detective's Handbook. Each student reads a detective mystery, and the class watches and analyzes Murder She Purred to establish a collective example. Students create a Detective's Handbook based on the mystery they read, adding a new entry every two days. A PowerPoint presentation provides a series of lessons, each of which explain one handbook entry, using Murder She Purred as a concrete example. Handbook entries include expository writing about the sleuth, the mystery, and the sidekick; descriptive writing about the crime scene; a wanted poster of the villain; a detective's log; a "how-to" paragraph describing how the mystery was solved; and a persuasive letter to the local Chief of Police. Finally, students record an overview of the book they read, making a case for its inclusion in the detective mystery genre.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Mysteries are an effective resource in the classroom, especially with reluctant readers. Students bored with other readings and their textbooks can become involved in the intrigue of a detective mystery in ways that more traditional reading fail to engage them. The "intrigue, characters, and gradually revealed storyline" in mysteries get students involved, asking them to use critical thinking, deductive reasoning, and logic to explore and guess the events in the story as it unfolds.

Mysteries are exciting reading for students; however, this assignment goes further, combining reading and writing in the classroom to improve both achievement and instructional efficiency (Vacca 260-261). Students who experience the integration of writing and reading are likely to learn more content, to understand it better, and to remember it longer. This is the case because writing, before or after reading, promotes thinking, but in different ways (Vacca 262).

Further Reading

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

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 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.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Literature and Writing: Investigating Mysteries by Tony DeLuna (Scholastic, 1992)

  • Murder She Purred: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery (Disney, 1998) Approximately 95 minutes

  • Challenging Whodunit Puzzles: Dr. Quicksolve's Mini-Mysteries by James Sukach (Sterling, 1997)



Student Objectives

Students will

  • recognize a form of literature according to its characteristics.

  • indicate personal preference by self-selecting a novel in the detective fiction subgenre of mystery.

  • practice predicting, deducing, and analyzing through oral and written discussion.

  • write in expository mode, as well as in descriptive and persuasive modes to a lesser degree.

  • develop and use an extended vocabulary by incorporating terms used by those involved in crime solving.

  • progress through all aspects of the writing process from prewriting to publishing.

  • use self-monitoring and feedback from peers and teachers to evaluate reading, writing, listening, viewing, studying, and research skills.

  • evaluate what they've learned from the novel and the writing project.

Instruction & Activities

  1. Students select and begin reading a detective fiction novel. (For students requiring a modified curriculum, this is a good place to begin-guide students towards a text at their reading ability level. Due to the amount of writing involved, use discretion when guiding students towards texts that may be above their reading ability level.)

  2. Copy all handouts, distribute, and discuss. Reviewing the end result before beginning allows students to reach their goal by seeing the "big picture."

  3. View Murder She Purred so that all students are working from a common knowledge base. During the viewing, have students complete the "Flick Sheet." After the viewing, separate students into small groups and require them to compile their information. They should organize the clues in the order in which they led to the solution of the mystery. Then have them examine clues that were "red herrings" and explain, either orally or in writing, how they were used to throw the detective—and the audience—off track. This prewriting activity will prepare students for Detective's Handbook entries #9 and #10.

  4. Show interactive Detective's Handbook PowerPoint Presentation, broken up into seven different lessons. Each explains one entry that will go into the Detective's Handbook, using Murder She Purred as a concrete example. It also includes an expository writing review. Allow students a few days between sections to reflect, review, and revisit the new information they are absorbing, as well as to write the first draft of the corresponding entry. Load the PowerPoint on a computer which the students can access so that they can open and review it when necessary.

  5. Begin the writing process for each entry at the rate of approximately one every two days. Model each entry by writing it with the students, based on the movie Murder She Purred. (Be prepared! You will have first drafts, second drafts, self-revision, peer editing, and conferencing to contend with at the same time.) Conference with each student to make sure that no one is falling behind or struggling with a specific entry. Use the Self-Monitoring Worksheet to assist you both. For special education students, students with limited English proficiency, or students reading well below grade level, modify the number of entries required in the final Handbook. For example, do not require entries two, three, and eight.

  6. For the tenth entry in the Detective's Handbooks, students write a persuasive letter to the local Chief of Police convincing him/her who should be arrested and why. Use the Persuasion Map to draft the body of their messages and publish their letters with the Letter Generator.

  7. When analysis is complete, have students write the expository foreword (see the Detective's Handbook for details).

  8. Finalize and publish Detective's Handbooks.

  9. Set up a time with the school (or local public) librarian in which the students can make a videotape of their presentations. (OPTION: audiotape can be made in the classroom.)

  10. Host "Detective's Deposition" at which students record (either on video or audio) an overview of their self-selected novel, and evaluate how its characteristics, and the style in which it is written show that it belongs in the detective fiction subgenre of mystery.

  11. Each student will peer review two peers' presentations.

  12. Tapes are to be labeled and kept in the library so that other students, who are looking for a detective fiction book to select, can view or listen to them.


Provide students with different "mystery shorts." Allow them time to practice predicting, deducing, analyzing, and solving each mystery. After modeling the first few, to show students how the process works, set up "stations." One station includes a computer with Internet access and directs students to MysteryNet's Kids Mysteries; one contains the book Dr. Quicksolve's Mini-Mysteries by James Sukach; one contains the sourcebook Scholastic's Investigating Mysteries These stations can be used for students who are finishing their written entries ahead of schedule. They can return to them as necessary.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Students will share, on video or audiotape, their reflections about the project by providing an overview of their self-selected novel and evaluating, through the Detective’s Handbook, how its characteristics, label it a member of the detective fiction subgenre of mystery. In addition, each student will share, with the class, the part of the foreword that details the connection the student has made between this expository writing project and the novel. After all handbooks have been shared, they are displayed in the library for others to enjoy.

K-12 Teacher
Thank you so much for this lesson! It looks fabulous and ties in so many concepts that we have learned this year in 6th grade. I can not wait to try it! I will update you on our progress!
K-12 Teacher
Thank you so much for this lesson! It looks fabulous and ties in so many concepts that we have learned this year in 6th grade. I can not wait to try it! I will update you on our progress!
K-12 Teacher
Thank you so much for this lesson! It looks fabulous and ties in so many concepts that we have learned this year in 6th grade. I can not wait to try it! I will update you on our progress!

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