In this unit, students act as reading detectives to discover the elements of a mystery.
- Demonstrate knowledge of the story elements in a mystery
- Follow the mystery format to write a mystery
- Lined paper and pencils
- Planning Your Mystery Worksheet printable
- Ingredients for a Mystery Checklist printable
- Materials for publishing a final book (bordered paper, blank books, etc.)
- Optional: Hardcover blank books
- Copy a class set of the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet printable for Part 1.
- Copy a class set of the Ingredients for a Mystery Checklist printable for Part 3.
- Optional: Find parent volunteers willing to type the final copies of the students' mysteries to cut down on the publishing time in class.
- Optional: If you plan to have your students publish their mystery stories in hardcover blank books, you should order the books prior to starting the mystery unit to ensure you'll have them in time.
Part 1: The Mystery Planning Sheet
By this time, students have listened to and read many mysteries, so they should be very familiar with the common story elements that appear in the majority of stories that can be categorized as a mystery. Over the next few days, you will be taking students through each step of the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet printable so that students can map out their own mysteries one step at a time.
Step 1: Choose a Setting
- Read aloud the description of a setting on the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet.
- Make a list of settings from mysteries that students have read during this mystery unit or prior to the mystery genre study in class. Encourage students to think about popular mystery series including Encyclopedia Brown, A to Z Mysteries, Boxcar Children, Cam Jansen, Jigsaw Jones, etc.
- Have students choose a setting from the list or come up with one on their own. Encourage students to personalize their setting by giving it a name if it is a school, a town, a store, etc.
- Have students record their setting in the "What Is Your Setting?" section on their Planning Your Mystery Worksheet and describe the setting in detail.
- Ask for volunteers to share their setting with the class. It is often helpful for students who are having hard time coming up with a setting on their own to hear ideas from their peers.
Step 2: Determine the Problem in the Mystery
- Read aloud the section of the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet that describes the problem component of a mystery.
- Make a list of problems students have come across in mysteries they have read in class or independently. Again, encourage students to think about popular mystery series.
- Have students choose a category for the type of problem they will be including in their own story. Categories include:
- An event that cannot be explained
- A secret
- Something that is lost or missing
- A crime or prank that has been committed
- Ask students to describe their problem in detail in the "What Is Your Problem?" section on their Planning Your Mystery Worksheet.
- Allow volunteers to share their problem with the class. This often sparks ideas for students who are struggling to determine a problem on their own.
Step 3: Create Your Suspects
- Read aloud the section of the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet that explains the rules for creating suspects.
- Refer back to a short mystery you read aloud in class during Lesson 1: Ingredients of a Mystery to remind students how authors include multiple suspicious characters in a mystery so the mystery is not easily solved.
- Have students revisit the problem they will be developing in their story and think about what type of characters could be created that would have something to do with the problem. For instance, if a student author decides to write a story about stolen money at a school fair, suspects might include the president of the student council who helped plan the fair, the janitor who locked up the money after the fair was over, or the student who kept talking about how he didn't have enough money to buy a present for his teacher for Christmas.
- Divide students into groups of three or four. Have each student share the problem they plan to include in their story with the member so their group. Ask group members help each other brainstorm possible suspects for each student's' problem. Note: I am very careful when creating these groups. I make sure that students I think might struggle to come up with ideas are grouped with my students who are able to think more deeply about a story and give helpful advice to the struggling writers.
- After students have met with other students in the class, have them complete the "Who Are Your Suspects?" section of the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet. Remind students that they must include both the name of the suspect and why he or she is suspicious. What would be his or her motive for committing the crime?
Step 4: Decide Who Will Be the Detective and What Will Be Clues
- Read aloud the section of the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet that explains the rules for creating a detective for the mystery.
- Make a list of detectives from mysteries that students have read during this mystery unit or prior to the mystery genre study in class.
- Have students decide the following things:
- Will my detective be an adult or a kid? How old is my detective?
- Will my detective be a boy or a girl?
- Will my detective have a sidekick or a group of friends who help solve the case?
- What name will I give my detective?
- What will my detective look like?
- What type of personality will my detective have?
- Where will my detective live?
- Once students think about the information listed above, have them fill out the "Who Is Your Detective?" section of the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet.
- Ask for volunteers to share their descriptions of the detectives they plan to create in their stories.
- After students have met with other students in the class, have them complete the "What Are the Clues in Your Story?" section of the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet. Remind students that some of the clues can lead the reader off track (red herrings), but the author must provide some clues that do help the reader actually solve the crime.
Step 5: Plan a Sequence of Events
- Using a short mystery that you read aloud to the class in Lesson 1: Ingredients of a Mystery, work as a class to put the main events in the order they occurred in the story in the "Sequence of Events" section of the example Planning Your Mystery Worksheet.
- Now ask students to brainstorm the main events that will happen in their own mystery by completing the "Sequence of Events" section on their own Planning Your Mystery Worksheet. Remind them that they are not writing the entire story on the planning sheet; they are just giving a brief overview of the main events.
Part 2: Drafting the Mystery
Once students have completed the plan for their mystery, they will begin writing it in the form of a story. In Lesson 1: Ingredients of a Mystery, students learned that the "Recipe for a Mystery" includes a clear beginning, middle, and end. Take students through the following steps to turn their plan into a complete story.
Step 1: The Beginning
In this section, the characters are introduced and the reader learns the mystery. Encourage students to be very descriptive when describing the main characters. A lesson about describing a character's appearance can be a separate mini-lesson.
Step 2: The Middle
In this section, the detective(s) work to solve the mystery by interviewing suspects and gathering clues. Have students refer back to their planning sheets to review the sequence of events, the main suspects, and the clues they decided to include in their story.
Step 3: The End
In this section, the mystery is solved. Remind students that they should include some evidence in this section to prove who committed the crime.
Part 3: Writing Teams
Step 1: Assign students to writing teams with whom they will share their story and from whom they will receive feedback. Remind students that being part of a team means that you support your teammates and provide them with help when necessary.
Step 2: While in their writing teams, each author should get a chance to read aloud his or her story while the others listen.
Step 3: After the story is read, the team should use the Ingredients for a Mystery Checklist that was introduced in Lesson 1 to make sure the author included all necessary story elements in his or her mystery.
Optional: I also ask members of the team to give one compliment and one suggestion for the author after they finish the checklist.
Step 4: After all authors have shared their mysteries, provide time for students to make any corrections or improvements to their story that they feel are necessary based on the meeting with their writing team.
Step 5: Students should also edit the story for spelling, grammar, and punctuation with the help of the teacher, parent editors, or peer editors.
Part 4: Publishing the Mysteries
Once students have written the final drafts of their stories, decide how each story will be published. You may want to arrange to have parents type the final copies to cut down on the publishing time in class if you want the stories to be typed. Choose from the publishing options below or use one of your own.
- Order blank hardcover books. Have each student paste his or her typed story on the pages inside or write the story by hand on the pages. Encourage students to illustrate the cover and the pages.
- Use old newspapers to cover the front and back covers of a thin notebook. Have students paste their typed stories on the pages inside or write their story by hand on the pages. Encourage students to illustrate the pages.
- Purchase thematic stationery from an office supply store or scrapbook store and print blank lines on the paper. Students can add the story to a writing portfolio or display the stories on a bulletin board for others to read.
- Combine all of the stories in a class book. Send the book home with a different student each night so that parents can read all of the mysteries written by the students in your class. When the book has been sent home with all students, put it in your class library to be enjoyed by all students this year and in years to come.
Note: However you plan to publish the stories, consider adding an "About the Author" section and including a picture of the author dressed as a detective with a magnifying glass and/or other detective props.
Supporting All Learners
- Writing a mystery will probably not be easy for students. It requires a great deal of careful planning and higher level thinking to transform a story plan into an actual mystery. I have established a writing workshop in my classroom. This format allows for independent writing time every day. It is during this time that I conference with my writers both individually and in small groups.
- As I discover the strengths and weaknesses of my writers, I plan focus groups to address common obstacles students are facing in their writing. Students can sign up for a conference, but I also make sure that I conduct individual conferences with my students who need additional support on a regular basis.
Invite parents to a "Meet the Detectives" event as described on the Exploring the Mystery Genre Unit Plan page. Even if you do not invite parents into the classroom, students can still take their published pieces home to share with their parents.
- Do I need to provide additional modeling for my students when walking them through the Planning Your Mystery Worksheet?
- Do I need to provide additional support for specific students?
- Is this lesson to challenging for my class? If so, should we work together to write a class mystery instead?
The main piece that I use for assessment is the student's published mystery. I create a rubric that I share with the students before they begin their story to let them know what I expect. Our district also has a 6-point scoring rubric that I use to assess the 6 Traits of Writing, but you may choose to create a rubric more specific to the mystery genre.