During the first half of the school year, our reader’s workshop lessons primarily focus on effectively using reading strategies. During the second semester I introduce a variety of genres to my class, teaching the intricacies of each, including specific vocabulary and characteristics or patterns to look for while reading. One of my students’ favorite genre studies happens each spring when we thoroughly investigate the mystery genre.
Mysteries are a great genre to study in any classroom because the books are readily available in a wide range of reading levels, yet still share the same common elements. I find mysteries particularly motivating for my reluctant readers, keeping them engaged and reading for longer periods of time as they try to follow the clues to discover whodunnit.
I begin by gathering the class on the carpet in front of our chart paper, and one by one, I introduce the vocabulary, discussing and giving examples for each word. Students receive their own copy of the vocabulary sheet to keep in their mystery case files (see below.)
Immediately after introducing the vocabulary, I read a short mystery to the class, asking them to be on the lookout for the different words/elements we listed on the chart paper. While reading, we pause to fill in an enlarged copy of a mystery graphic organizer. For my mystery read-alouds, I like to choose the very first chapter of any book in the Encyclopedia Brown series. The first chapter gives the background knowledge students need about the 5th grade detective, and it always seems to contain every element from our vocabulary board and graphic organizer.
After students have familiarity with the terminology and elements of mysteries, they are allowed to choose their own for independent reading practice. I have baskets of series such as Jigsaw Jones, Cam Jansen, and the A to Z Mysteries, and several other book bins for students to choose from. Once all the students have selected a book at their level, they receive their Mystery Case File.
Click on the image at left to download the cover. The font used on the cover is a free download, Bohemian Typewriter.
The idea of using a Mystery Case File was introduced to me about eight years ago by a very talented teacher in our district, Karen Bush. The case file is a manila folder personalized with each student’s name and containing a packet of reproducible mystery graphic organizers that come from the teacher resource, Graphic Organizer Booklets for Reading Response: Grades 2-3 available as an instant download from The Teacher Store.
Even though there are easy-to-follow directions on each page, I think it is important to go over each sheet to let students know your expectations. I have found in my class that when students are allowed to read and complete a multi-page graphic organizer independently, they benefit from extra support at the beginning and quick check-ups while their work is in progress.
During the two-week period that students are reading their mystery books independently in class, we continue to map stories together during read aloud. Encyclopedia Brown is still a great choice since every chapter is a separate mystery, however there are many other very short mysteries available.
MysteryNet Kid’s Two Minute Mysteries offers several short mysteries with solutions. I have done these together with my class and I have also sent them home with a story map graphic organizer for homework. A few that have worked well with my class include:
When we study a genre, I like to present it in as many different forms as possible, including for the purpose of comparing and contrasting. Years ago it seems there was a weekly, hour-long, live-action Encyclopedia Brown show on cable which is currently available in 15 minute segments on YouTube. This year, my class watched one episode called "Case of the Missing Time Capsule" on our interactive whiteboard and filled out a graphic organizer while viewing. We frequently paused the online streaming to discuss clues and suspects. Students sat by their pair and share partners to discuss and fill in their organizers while they watched. Admittedly, the video is incredibly hokey, but my students loved it.
In the past, I have also used videos of Scooby Doo episodes which also contain all the terminology and elements of a mystery that my students can map.
When my students study mysteries, I like to incorporate that theme into other areas of the curriculum as well. Scholastic offers many resources that utilize the mystery theme in both math and reading, all available in The Teacher Store.
Download and print these adorable bookmarks from ThistleGirl designs.
After two weeks of working with mysteries, my students begin working on their culminating book project. Next week I will share with you how each student shows off their knowledge of the mystery genre on a giant, poster-sized jigsaw puzzle they create.
How do you investigate the mystery genre? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.