The one about teaching the mystery genre with novels

Hopefully you’ve been following along with my series about teaching all about mysteries. If you’re just jumping in, be sure to flip back to read about how I set the stage to engage my students with a Detective Mission and how we used Scooby Doo to help us practice what we using our new mystery knowledge. 

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.

After our Scooby Doo adventure, we were ready to jump into our novel study! When I planned this project originally, my language arts classes were set up heterogeneously with students on all levels. I decided to best suit the needs of my students, I needed to choose two separate novels- one that was on level for 4th grade and one that was above.  

Remembering a fond experience reading The Westing Game (Puffin Modern Classics) when I was younger, I knew that HAD to be my above level book. This book is full of a variety of clues that really challenge the reader to pay attention. There is a lot of play on words and a strange cast of characters thrown together that will keep any reader on their toes. 

For my on-level book, after some research, I chose Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief for a couple reasons. One, it’s the first book in a series- this gives me something to recommend to my on-level and below-level readers if they find Sammy interesting. Two, the main character, Sammy, is tomboy-ish girl, which I knew would help her to appeal to both the boys and the girls in my class. In fact, when I first read this book, I actually forgot whether Sammy was a boy or girl for awhile, which was kind of cool, because her gender didn’t effect her detective skills in anyway. I always like to introduce my students to a variety of main characters and I could tell Sammy’s spirit and attitude would draw even my reluctant readers into the story. 

Once I had my books, then I knew we needed a fun way to track our mystery clues and keep our detective theme going! These Detective Mystery Case Files worked perfectly. For each chapter, we wrote one-sentence summaries so we wouldn’t forget any important events. Then, focusing on the important parts of a mystery, we tracked the detective, the clues, and suspects. We also made some educated guesses about whodunnit and then evaluated our own work at the end of our novel study. 

Here are some pictures from one of my students’ case files. She read The Westing Game.

This is a side by side picture of the inside. To make each folder look like a “real” detective case file, I used two brackets on to hold each set of pages together.

This was such a fun novel study! Each group was really into their book and came up with some great suspects based on their clues. I was very impressed with how hard they worked. UPDATE 2021: Since originally writing this post, I’ve now used the case file with groups ranging from below level 4th to advanced 5th. Besides the other books mentioned, I used The Absent Author (A to Z Mysteries) (F&P Level N) and The Greenglass House (F&P Level U). 

Creating this case file and reading these novels really helped to prepare us for our next big adventure…writing our own mysteries! Click here to see the final part of our huge mystery genre study and see how we constructed our own mystery stories.


Share it:


You might also like...