Students complete assignments in their Detective Case Files to help them solve a mystery!
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
In this lesson, students will be divided into small, guided reading groups (Detective Clubs) that read multiple copies of chapter book mysteries. Students will act as reading detectives and complete assignments in their "Detective Case File" that will help them solve the mystery in their book. Reading Detectives will meet regularly with the teacher and with fellow detectives in their Detective Club to discuss the mystery and share clues they have collected.
- Read and respond to chapter book mysteries independently
- Organize facts and analyze characters and events to formulate a possible solution to a mystery
- Complete a Detective's Case Report to document how they solved a case
- Sets of multiple chapter book mysteries for groups of 4–6 students
- Manila envelopes, one per student
- Detective's Dictionary Handout
- Suspect List
- Clue Clipboard
- Detective's Case Report
- Digital camera
- Optional: Reading Detective Badges
Set Up and Prepare
- Divide your students into "Detective Clubs." You may want to organize the groups so that students can read books at a level similar to others in their group. Gather multiple copies of mystery chapter books that groups of 4–6 students will be reading in their "Detective Clubs."
- Take a picture of each student dressed as a detective (detective hat, trench coat, magnifying glass, briefcase, etc.). These pictures will be glued to the front of the student's case files.
- Make a "Detective Case File" for each Reading Detective in your class. A case file is a manila envelope with the name of the case (title of the book) and the detective's name and picture on the front. I also put a TOP SECRET sticker on the front of the envelope. Each envelope should be filled with the following:
Day 1: Think Like a Detective!
Before students are "officially" given the opportunity to read their own mystery with other members of their "Detective Club," do one or both of the following activities to help students understand how detectives must always pay close attention to detail when trying to solve a case.
Step 1: Option #1: Mystery Visitor: Here is a way to explore your students' eyewitness memory. Plan to have someone (a teacher or a student from a different class) come into your classroom while students are working quietly on a task at their desks. Plan with the mystery visitor ahead of time to make sure he or she does several things in your class during his or her brief visit such as:
- Borrow something like a book, a craft supply, money, etc.
- Talk to a student in the class
- Give a note to the teacher
- Ask a question
- Set something down on a table
When the mystery visitor comes into your room, most of the students will probably be curious about what he or she is doing and will look up from their work. After the visitor leaves the room, have the students write down all the things that happened. You can do this immediately after the visitor leaves or sometime later in the school day.
If students need ideas about what to remember, write the following questions on the board: What details do they recall? What was the visitor wearing wear? How long was the visitor in the room? What did the visitor borrow while in the room? Who did he or she talk to? What did he or she say? You may even ask some leading questions to influence memory. Once everyone has finished writing, find out what everyone remembers and what they did not. Compare how everyone's memory was the same and different.
Step 2: Option #2: The Memory Game: Put 25 different objects on a tray and have students study the tray for 30 seconds. Put the tray put of sight and have students write down all of the objects that they remember. This can also be done with a picture from an I Spy book.
Step 3: After completing one or both of the activities above, compare this detective activity to reading a mystery. Remind students that when reading a mystery, they must always be looking for clues and paying very close attention to details. This will be an important skill when they begin their jobs as "Reading Detectives."
Day 2: First Meeting with Detective Clubs
Step 1: Set aside a period time where you can meet briefly with each Detective Club to introduce the book they will be reading and pass out their Detective Case File. You will need to plan an activity for the class to do independently so that you can give all your attention to the Detective Clubs. Since I do a reading workshop in my classroom, the rest of the students are just reading independently while I am meeting with groups.
Step 2: Call one group (detective club) at a time to a small table in your classroom. Pass out a copy of the mystery chapter book to each student. I bring a briefcase to school and fill it with the books for each group. When passing out the books, I open my briefcase to reveal the book the group will be reading. It adds some fun and excitement to the lesson!
Step 3: Have students put on their reading badges (if you chose to make them). Tell them they that are going to be reading detectives for the next couple of weeks while they try to solve the mystery in the book they will be reading together. I also purchased inexpensive plastic brimmed hats that all detectives wear when meeting with members of their Detective Club.
Step 4: Preview the mystery chapter book with the students by doing the following things:
- Ask if anyone has read a book in this series. If someone has, allow them to give a brief description of the main character/s.
- Read the title and have students make predictions about what the mystery could be.
- Read the summary on the back of the chapter book aloud while the students follow along using their own copy of the book.
- Read the titles of the chapters (if there is a table of contents).
- Allow students to make connections to any of the information they have read, or invite them to make new predictions about what might happen in the book.
Step 5: Pass out the Detective Case File and go through the worksheets in the file to review with students how to complete each sheet. The Suspect List was modeled in Lesson 1: Ingredients of a Mystery. However, you might need to explain the Clue Clipboard worksheet. The Detective's Case Report will not be completed until after the story has been read.
Step 6: Set up a reading assignment and a date for the next time you will meet with the group. Remind students that they should come prepared for the meeting by having their assigned pages read. And they should have recorded suspects and clues if they came across that information as they were reading.
Step 7: Meet with each group and follow steps 2–6.
Days 3-10: Detective Discussions
You will continue to meet with groups (detective clubs) regularly just as you would do with guided reading groups or book clubs. Depending on the grade and maturity level of your students, the meetings can be student-led once your students are comfortable and capable of engaging in a meaningful discussion without the support of the teacher.
Step 1: Create a schedule that will allow you to meet with 2–3 groups per day for the next 10 days (or how long you think you will need before your students finish their mystery chapter book). You will need to set aside time where you can meet exclusively with each group while the rest of the class is engaged in quiet work. Since I do a reading workshop in my classroom, the rest of the students are just reading independently while I am meeting with groups.
Step 2: When meeting with a group, give students time to collectively (and briefly) retell the main events that have happened in the story. Ask questions to monitor comprehension and to push their thinking to a higher level.
Step 3: Invite students to share any entries they have made on their Suspect List or their Clue Clipboard. Discuss the implications of the clues, and encourage students to explain why characters on their suspect list are suspicious. If some students have missed important clues, allow them to add the clues and suspects to their lists. However, you should lend support to students who regularly miss important clues or model again for them how to complete the worksheets.
Step 4: At the end of each session set a page number to which they need to read and a day that their detective group will meet again.
Step 5: Continue to meet with each group on a regular basis until the book has been read and the mystery has been solved.
Step 6: After students are finished reading the book, assign the Detective's Case Report as a final assignment to assess their overall understanding of the book and their ability to organize the important information in the mystery.
Supporting All Learners
It is important to monitor students closely while meeting with them in small groups. If students seem to be struggling in a group, you may need to spend extra time modeling how to complete the worksheets or even complete the worksheets with a student. Books on tape also work well for students who struggle with decoding text at the level of their peers but who would benefit from being part of a detective group and joining in on the discussion and the solving of the mystery.
Note to Teachers: You may add additional focus lessons during your meetings with each detective club based on the needs of the readers, just as you would in a typical guided reading experience.
Optional Culminating Activity:
Have detective groups work together to create a newscast about the mystery to present to their classmates. Students will write a script and take on the roles of anchors and on-site reporters. Students can choose to interview suspects from the case or even eyewitnesses to the crime. Videotape the final newscasts so that students can watch themselves on TV. Students can use their completed Detective's Case Reports to help them write a script.
Students are expected to read their mystery both in class and at home. I send home with parents an overview of the unit and invite them to be involved in our mystery unit by talking about the story with their child and regularly checking out their Detective Case File.
- Are students able to independently read the books that I have selected for them?
- Are students able to independently complete the worksheets in their case file?
- Do some students need more support when completing their suspect lists or writing clues they have discovered?
- Are students using the "mystery vocabulary" when participating in the group discussions?
- Is the participation in the detective club meetings balanced, or are some students dominating the conversations?
The main tool for assessment will be the Detective Case File. Students must turn it in at the end of the unit with their Suspect List (PDF), Clue Clipboard worksheet (PDF), and final Detective's Case Report (PDF) completed. I grade the work for accuracy, quality of answers, and depth of understanding. I also create a rubric for students' level of participation during discussions in their detective club meetings. I also make informal observations in my own notebook to evaluate students' ideas and perceived understanding of the story during our meetings.