Whodunnit? Kicking The Year Off With Mysteries!

Can I just say that y'all are AH-MAZING!!  A few days into my 100 Follower Giveaway and I'm sitting right at 200 followers!!  Thanks to all of you for helping spread the word about my new little blog!!!

Who doesn't love a good mystery?  There are several reasons why I choose mysteries as my first genre study of the year.  First, we finish our reading strategies unit at the end of September, and mysteries seems to be a perfect fit for October (Halloween and mysteries go hand in hand, and I love it!)  More importantly, mysteries get the students EXCITED about reading {this could possibly be because it's my favorite genre to read as an adult and my excitement rubs off on them.}  And finally, there are MANY mystery series out there, so it's easy for me to find books on all of the various levels that I'll need.  Not only books, but...chapter books!  Let's face it, all new 2nd graders want to multiply, write in cursive, and read chapter books, so by letting EVERYONE read chapter books from the start, confidence is already building! My lower readers can read the Young Cam Jansen series (PERFECT for them!) while my higher readers usually read The Boxcar Children and there are TONS of series in between!!
 By the time we begin this first genre study, I have gathered lots of data about my students' reading levels using running records, STAR testing, MAP testing, etc.  I use all of this data and my knowledge of their abilities to find each student's independent reading level.  Then, I assign them books to read in "detective duos."  Sometimes I will have up to 6 students reading the same book, but I still divide them up into "duos."  At this point in the year, students are still learning expectations and how to stay on task in cooperative groups.  The more students in a group, the more distractions! ;)  Each student is given a large manila envelope (case file) that includes his/her book, comprehension questions to answer along the way, a story elements chart, a mystery vocabulary matching game, and a reading tracker (magnifying glass).  
 At the beginning of this unit, we have several whole-group modeled lessons where I read aloud a mystery book (I usually use an A to Z Mystery) and model what they will be doing in their detective duos.  I'm also teaching the characteristics of this genre and important vocabulary/story elements.  After these lessons, students begin reading in their detective duos.  Each day I assign them chapters to read in their books (usually 1-2 chapters).  They read these together (after we have modeled how to read with a partner - sitting EEKK (elbow to elbow, knee to knee), following along with a reading tracker, asking/offering help, etc.) and I meet with groups to check on progress, work on skills, and assess comprehension.  If I have multiple "duos" reading the same book, I will pull them all together when I meet so we can have more feedback in our discussions.

Of course, each day, students will finish reading in their "detective duos" at different times.  If students finish their assigned reading and "case work" for the day, they move on to literacy stations.  I must admit, I don't use literacy stations on a daily basis in my classroom, and not all students will visit them every day.  When I do use them, I use the "Must Do/Can Do" approach.  I have tried to use centers where students are in rotations and move to new stations every 15 minutes or so, but they just don't work for me!  I think I like to control chaos and when students are moving around too much, wasting time in transitions I become frustrated.  With the Must Do/Can Do stations, students are assigned to one station per day.  There is a "must do" activity at that station, but once that activity is complete there are several "can do" activities that the students can complete.
 At the end of this unit, our C*E*L*E*B*R*A*T*I*O*N is a real-life classroom mystery!!  I use "Who Borrowed Mr. Bear?" from the GEMS Mystery Festival book - it provides the story and all lesson plans to guide students in using the scientific process and inferences to solve their own case.  It is a LOT of set up, but so worth it!!  I wrote a grant through Donor's Choose to get the entire kit full of all the materials needed for the crime scene and experiments.  I've been using it for several years and haven't ran out of the consumables yet!  My absolute favorite thing to do during this unit is to sit back and watch the students go to the suspects chart after conducting an experiment and make inferences about the suspects.  They use the vocabulary taught during the unit and debate with each other...it is TOO CUTE!

Worth mentioning, also, is that students are reading mysteries at home during this unit as well.  For their at-home book, they can choose whatever book they want (I don't make them stick to their level) and they create a Story Skeleton book project to bring to school to share.  We often have a "Pancake Party" on sharing day...in honor of the great detective, Nate the Great, of course!

It always makes me smile to see the mystery baskets in our classroom library EMPTY during the next several weeks.  And, the librarian says, "I know what genre you've been studying because the books are flying off the shelf!"  Ahh....my heart smiles!

Do you teach mysteries in your classroom?  What are your favorite mystery series to use with your students?  How do you get students excited about reading at the beginning of the year?


  1. Ooo...I LOVE a good mystery! I like the idea of a larger group of kids reading the same book, but breaking the kids into duos. Would you mind sharing a bit more info. on your story skeletons?
    Stories by Storie

  2. Wow, if I were a kid in your class I would LOVE learning about mysteries!! The detective duos with the hats is a great idea. I agree with you on the smaller the group the less distractions. Even when we do centers I try to keep them in pairs vs. groups. Congrats on 200 followers!! I just reached 100 and I'm having a big giveaway. Would love for you to come check it out :)

    ❤- Stephanie
    Falling Into First

  3. Storie,
    The Story Skeletons consist of certain body parts, but the kids get to make them however they want (sometimes they get very creative)! Each part has to tell about a certain story element (face=draw the main character, chest=draw and name the setting, etc.) The instruction page and rubric for grading are available at my resource site, Teacher's Clubhouse, if you're interested - http://www.teachersclubhouse.com/fictiongenrestudies.htm#Mysteries

  4. Mysteries are one of my students favorite genres as well. I am also such a fan of the leveling ability mystery books provide.

    Chickadee Jubilee

  5. I am in love with this entire post!! I'm going to link back to it on my Facebook fan page. :)
    ~Mrs. K. from The Teacher Garden Blog

  6. Love this! Do you have the comprehension questions and everything else in the manilla folders saved on your computer? I would LOVE a copy so that I can use it in my classroom. Let me know if you have this available somewhere.

    Ms. Smith
    Adventures of Ms. Smith

  7. Hi Amanda! Thanks so much for following my blog so I could find your blog! I am so very new to blogging and am thrilled that you started a new blog too!

    I have been a fan of teachersclubhouse.com since I discovered you 4 years ago! I recognized your name and was hoping it was you!

    I'm your newest follower and am LOVING your blog! I'll be visiting often!

    Thank you for all the wonderful math, science and social studies resources you have on your site and for everything you do for teachers! Your second grade materials (love the Houghton Mifflin...very helpful!) made such a difference to me when I switched to second grade from Kindergarten 4 years ago!

    Hope you're having a great summer and I'll be back to chat again!

  8. Wow, I am planning on doing a mystery unit for the first time this year and you just gave me a TON of ideas! Your unit sounds like so much fun! Thanks for sharing!

    EduKate and Inspire

  9. Thanks, Ms. Smith...I use the Differentiated Mysteries Unit from Teacher's Clubhouse - http://www.teachersclubhouse.com/fictiongenrestudies.htm#Mysteries

  10. Awww...thanks, Linda! So glad you found my blog! Look forward to sharing ideas with you! :) I'm going to check out your blog right now!

  11. I did a Mystery Unit with an enrichment group last year, and I thought I did a good job....But now I'm thinking time to retool THAT unit plan!!! Thanks for the food for thought!


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