What's in a Mystery? Exploring and Identifying Mystery Elements
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- Standards |
- Resources & Preparation |
- Instructional Plan |
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Mystery stories make popular reading for elementary-age students; teachers can take advantage of this interest to help students engage in a genre study. This lesson teaches students about plot structure, character, and setting. Students identify the characteristics of mystery writing in class discussions, outline a mystery story using a graphic organizer, write and revise a mystery story on their own, and edit each other's work. Students are then given opportunities to share their mysteries and to evaluate how clues are laid out to come to conclusions.
Mystery Graphic Organizer: Students use this helpful handout to outline and plot a mystery of their own.
From Theory to Practice
- Reading mysteries promotes student participation because these stories encourage readers to deduce a solution from provided clues.
- Mysteries provide an opportunity to discuss many aspects of literature including setting, characters, and plot.
- Begin instruction about mysteries by brainstorming what students already know about the genre. Reading mystery stories aloud and reviewing common mystery terms will help develop students' understanding.
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.
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
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 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.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 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
- Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (Yearling Books, 1977)
- Chart paper
- Overhead projector
|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:
|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.
- 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
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:
|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.
|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:
|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.
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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
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.
- 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.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- 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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