5 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Mystery Genre Studies to Elementary Students

Enjoy teaching mystery genre studies to your third, fourth, and fifth grade students. Start with great stories. Add fun activities and games. Mix in some writing and maybe a novel. Top it off with a simulation. Your kids will have a blast – – – and you will too!

Ms. Sneed Organizes Lesson Plans for Teaching Mystery Genre

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, grinned. “Time to teach mysteries again!” she told her teaching partner, Mr. Frank.

“This year, we’re prepared,” he responded. He pulled four sets of papers from his bag: Read Like a Detective, Think Like a Detective, Write Like a Detective, and Act Like a Detective. Then he reached in again and pulled out two novel studies: The Maze of Bones and The Westing Game. “I can’t wait. How long will we have to do this unit?”

“Five weeks. Can we squeeze it all in?”

“Let’s try!”

1 Teach Kids to Read Like Detectives

First, they organized the reading activities using Read Like a Detective. “We will begin with inference activities,” said Mr. Frank. “That way, all kids can practice reading closely – and tying details together to draw conclusions.”

“If we feel pinched for time,” Ms. Sneed added, “we can just read a few aloud each day.”

When teaching mystery genre, these inference activities require third, fourth, and fifth grade students to read closely and draw conclusions. They help kids scaffold to longer mystery stories.

Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

“Next, we’ll move into short mysteries,” Mr. Frank continued. “These two-page stories are perfect for mapping. Kids identify the problem, clues, red herrings, and the solution.”

“Right,” said Ms. Sneed. ” In addition, they let kids see how authors plan mystery stories. This gets them ready for the writing we’ll do later.”

When third, fourth, and fifth grade students map short mysteries, they identify elements and see how authors plan their writing.

“I’d like to emphasize specialized mystery vocabulary this year,” said Mr. Frank. He opened his laptop and clicked around. “Here, I found some mystery posters. These will look great in our rooms.”

2 Teach Kids to Think Like Detectives

Next, they worked on the detective activities using Think Like a Detective. “I’d like to start with observation. Last year, after my students learned to be more observant, their close reading skills improved,” said Mr. Frank.

“Not only that,” his co-teacher responded. “These activities are F-U-N!”

Mr. Frank chuckled. “Umm-hmm. After that, we’ll schedule one day for the invisible ink. Each of us can use the secret codes, logic puzzles, and fingerprinting however and whenever we want.”

Add some activities when teaching mystery genre. Kids love secret codes, fingerprinting, invisible ink, logic puzzles, and more!

“Don’t forget about the online games,” Ms. Sneed reminded him. “We can share this list of URLs with our students again this year. That way, if they finish early, they can play away!”

3 Add Mystery Novels

“Once our students have some experience with mysteries and detective work, they’ll be ready to start a full-length novel,” said Mr. Frank.

“Yes, and as we agreed, we’ll use two this year. The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan works well for most fourth and fifth graders…”

“…And we’ll use The Westing Game for our top readers,” Mr. Frank finished. “Since we want our kids to read one day and discuss the next, this part of our unit will take three weeks. Fortunately, two parallel novel studies are available: one for The Maze of Bones, and another for The Westing Game.”

As Ms. Sneed looked through the pages of the novel studies, Mr. Frank penciled the chapters into their lesson plans.

4 Teach Kids to Write Like Detectives

“We can add writing activities to our ELA block while the students are reading their novels,” said Ms. Sneed. She pulled Write Like a Detective from the pile in the middle of the table and thumbed through it. “This includes three projects: a picture puzzle, paper bag stories, and a mapped mystery.”

“I vote for the activity that requires them to map their stories with flow charts,” said Mr. Frank.

“Me too. It’s the most difficult, but also the most appropriate.”

No mystery unit is complete without a little writing. Ask your third, fourth, or fifth grade students to pen some detective stories.

5 Culminate with a Classroom Mystery Simulation

“Wanna go all-out this year?” asked Mr. Frank.

Ms. Sneed’s eyes twinkled. “Of course! Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“A simulation!” they both said together.

Stage a mystery in your classroom. Your third, fourth, or fifth grade students will love acting like detectives while you're teaching the genre of mystery.

“We can use the corresponding CSI detective activity,” said Ms. Sneed. “The entire simulation is done for us. Kids take notes from pictorial evidence and interviews. Then they analyze fingerprints, powders, and chromatography.”

“Perfect!” Mr. Frank exclaimed. “I don’t know who will have more fun – the kids or me!”

Ask your third, fourth, or fifth grade students to act like detectives when teaching the mystery genre. In this mystery simulation, they use pictorial evidence, interviews, fingerprints, powder analysis, and chromatography to crack the case.

Complete Lesson Plans

“There,” said Ms. Sneed. “We’ve finished our lesson plans. This will be the best unit ever!” And, of course, that famous teacher smile spread across her face.

For a free set of sample lesson plans for teaching mystery genre studies, click on the image.

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. The step that really made it fun, though, was to engage her learners. Organizing ELA units around genres connected concepts and kept kids excited about learning. In time, Ms. Sneed developed units for fables, fairy tales, realistic fiction, historical fiction, and biography.

For more great ideas, follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed. Then you can learn to enjoy teaching too.


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